Her Bay school for boys

May 14, 2022

Education

By Kim Catley
In the summer of 2020, it felt like the whole world was in need.

When Suzanne LaVigne Gibbs, W’90, worked in higher education, she noticed many of her most successful students shared one key quality: strong social-emotional skills. They got along with their roommates, managed their time well, and collaborated on projects.

Years later, when her eldest son was preparing for middle school, she wanted to find a progressive school that fostered those same skills.

By that time, Gibbs had moved to the Bay Area in California with her husband, Brian, B’90, who died of cancer in 2013. Her search led her across the bay to a boys’ school in Berkeley. Gibbs and several other parents spent more than a year trying to open a satellite campus, but the timing never aligned. She found another school for her son and set aside the plans for a new school.

“Then, in the summer of 2020, it felt like the whole world was in need,” she says. “I found another partner and threw myself into it.”

They approached the head of the Berkeley school, who agreed to join them. In fall 2021, the Peninsula School for Boys opened with 14 sixth grade boys in its first class.

The school prioritizes hands-on learning and teaches each student to recognize his role in the greater community.

“Middle school is when kids are figuring out who they are outside their family, who they are as a person, and how they fit into society,” Gibbs says. “We give them a safe place to experiment and discover that.”

While the school came too late for her older son, Gibbs says her youngest applied this spring. But more importantly, she says, the school is her way of giving back to a community that supported her family when Brian died.

“The school is my legacy to Brian,” she says. “It’s what I needed to do to say thank you.”