Digging into Pinewood’s Roots



   Everyday, we walk the halls of Pinewood School, enjoying the family-spirit  that Upper Campus fosters – but few of us know the origin story of the place we call home.

   “My grandfather was really big on putting his own kids to work. He ordered 900 pine seedlings that came in a shoebox, and he and his kids would plant those where the middle campus currently is, and fertilize and water them, and they would grow and mature, and then they would transplant them somewhere else, and eventually they sold as Christmas trees,” said president Scott Riches. These pine saplings became the inspiration for the name of the school we all know and love: Pinewood.

   Founders Gwendolyn and Victor Riches both had a passion for education – Mr. Riches had been a professor at the University of Utah, and Mrs. Riches had majored in education. Whenever her children had to give talks in school, Mrs. Riches would coach them. They would do so well that parents started asking her to teach their children.

   Mr. Riches worked for the Stanford Research Institute, and was commissioned to go three months to Australia on a business trip. Mrs. Riches wondered what she could do in his absence, and he jokingly told her to follow her passion: start a school.

   When Mr. Riches came home three months later, it was to find that not only had she started an after school speech and drama program, but there were over a hundred children coming and going from the house, learning music, dance, and drama. Mr. Riches realized that they couldn’t keep the business in a residential area, so they moved the program to State Street in Los Altos, calling it the Creative Workshop.

   Mrs. Riches was concerned that many of the children who attended the Creative Workshop had difficulty reading. They would try out for plays, but would struggle to read the script. She realized that children were being taught to just memorize words and set out to find a good phonetics program to add reading to the growing number of courses offered in her program.

   The success of the Creative Workshop was beyond anything Mr. and Mrs. Riches had ever imagined. Mrs. Riches started a kindergarten class, and from there, the school grew in leaps and bounds, evolving to meet the needs of the students.

   “[My mother] would get calls from all over the community of parents who were inquiring about Pinewood, and she was so enthusiastic and so excited, that by the time she hung up, there wasn’t one person who wasn’t dying to have their children go to Pinewood because of her dynamic personality, and her passion, enthusiasm and sincerity for it …she was a terrific promoter and visionary for Pinewood,” said Kathy Pickett, the founders’ daughter.

   After remaining a kindergarten through eighth grade school for a number of years, Mr. and Mrs. Riches decided to expand to start a high school, and the first senior class, comprised of 17 students, graduated in 1985.

Pinewood’s emphasis on the arts runs back to its origins as a speech and drama workshop, but its athletics took a little longer to form.

   “The thing that really got [sports] going at Pinewood, was when we had a new basketball coach who put our basketball team on the map, and that man’s name was Mark Gardner. He started out here as the basketball coach and a history teacher, and everybody just loved his classes … he was an amazing coach, and he took our little team, unknown, all the way to the NorCal Championships, so sports became something that Pinewood was known for instead of having the perception that Pinewood didn’t do much in sports,” said Pickett.

   Over the years, Pinewood has changed tremendously, while staying true to its roots and core values. The spirit of family amongst the tightly-knit community of students and faculty set it apart from other schools.

   “The students and faculty all feel like we’re in this together –  the atmosphere sets us apart. Because we’re small, students get an opportunity to be involved in so many different things. I really appreciate how well rounded our students are. Most of our students aren’t just one thing –  it’s the sports, it’s the arts, it’s journalism, it’s yearbook. Creating that well-roundedness, I think makes us unique as well,” said Riches.