Winston School in Del Mar to celebrate 25 years of opening doors to the future for its students

Winston School students Lauren Jacobson and Zach O'Brien on campus
Winston School students Lauren Jacobson and Zach O'Brien on campus

By Kathy Day

If parents keep singing the praises of the Winston School the way Randi Pisapia does, the tiny Del Mar school will be celebrating milestone anniversaries for years to come.

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Winston School principal Mike Peterson

As school officials, parents, students and alumni get ready for the April 20 celebration marking the school’s founding 25 years ago, they also are reaching out to let people know what the school means to them.

Located on the former campus of Del Mar Shores School, Winston serves students from fourth to 12th grade, with a mission to provide college prep education in a family-like environment “where students with diverse abilities and challenges come together to focus on success.”

Pisapia, a Vista resident whose son started at Winston in the fourth grade and is now in his third year at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, doesn’t hesitate when asked what the school has meant to their family.

“It gave me back my son,” she said. “I owe them my life.”

Faced with dyslexia and auditory processing issues, Tommy had “shut down,” she said. “It was awful. We had to pry his fingers off the door to get him to go to school. He wore a hoodie pulled down over his face and was on anti-anxiety medications.”

When Tommy changed schools, Pisapia said she was a little afraid because he was a fourth-grader on a campus where there were high school students.

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Former Winston School student Nolan Inouye is painting a mural at the campus. Nolan attends Palomar College.

But within three months, they were able to start taking him off the medication. And even though at first he had to leave home at 6 a.m. to take the bus, he still loved going to school. Soon, though, they decided to ride was too long so they began driving him.

And they’re not the only ones who make a long trek to get to the campus on Ninth Street and Stratford Court in Del Mar.

Headmaster Mike Peterson — only the third person to hold that title in the school’s history — said they currently have one student who lives in Temecula while others come from Chula Vista and East County.

One of those is senior Zach O’Brien, who began attending Winston as a junior.

A Santee resident, he drives to school. His brother also attended Winston and is now at Humboldt State University – where Zach will join him in the fall.

Zach talks proudly about his school, explaining that he sustained a traumatic brain injury playing football when he was 11 that caused chronic pain and other symptoms.

He made it through seventh and eighth grade but missed his entire freshman year as his parents took him all over the country in an effort to find out what was wrong and tried another private school.

“I had problems with memory and cognitive skills,” he said. “I couldn’t put thoughts on paper that were in my head … Before, I was good in school.”

Two years ago he had surgery, which he said has helped with some of the problems.

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