Courtesy of June Morris
Driving past Bird and Le Jeune Road was supposed to be an outing that would induce a flood of memories into the mind of former Cavalier, Morris. Instead, it was an underwhelming experience that brought to light that Coral Gables Senior High School was not in the pristine condition Morris remembered it to be in.
After attending a Coral Gables Economic Development Board meeting where the status of public sites such as the school was discussed, the startling condition of a school the alum once called home became a reality. Although the student body was overflowing with academic success, Gables’ structure had been weathered by time. A school that was 71 years old no longer had pearly white walls or the structural support that it had once had in the 1950s.
Morris knew that the city needed to have a public high school that embodied the vision of the ‘City Beautiful’. Working closely with involved members in the community who shared the same concerns Morris did, the Gables graduate took action and held the first-ever meeting concerning the state of the school.
“When I first opened my doors and held a meeting at my house I had no idea what to expect. I really didn’t know what the group would do… I have never in my life started something like this, I have always joined causes but never started one… Once I saw the caliber of the group that came together though, I knew that we really had something that could truly make a difference for Gables,” June Morris said.
While at first Morris presumed that the meeting she set up at her home would be attended by a few Gables alumni, she was pleasantly surprised by the event’s turnout. Former Cavaliers, the Coral Gables mayor, two former city mayors, two Gables commissioners, the Parent Teacher Student Association president and incoming PTSA president, several parents of current Gables students and members of the community all joined together in Morris’s living room to watch a PowerPoint presentation illustrating the condition of the high school.
“From there, everyone said we got to get together again to form a group. We came back a month later and had our first board meeting,” June Morris said.
The surprising turnout proved that Morris was not the only one who cared about her former school. It was not just alumni who would contribute but ‘friends’ who wanted to keep Gables at the heart of the community. That night, Friends of Gables High was born.
Since then, the non-profit organization has funded various projects for the school including the building of the school’s Coral Lab, the donation of a brand-new golf cart for the athletic department and the renovation of the granite placard in front of the school which marks its entrance.
The most prominent endeavor FOGH has played a role in is Gables’ beautification project, which involves rebuilding and renovating the school as a whole. Mari Tere Rojas, the school board member for Gables’ district, worked hand-in-hand with FOGH to assure that the $26 million General Obligation Bond allocated towards the school’s renovations stayed on track.
“Ms. Rojas has been instrumental in upping the GOB from its original amount to about 44 million…By the time the reconstruction and rebuilding of Gables High is completed, 95% of the school will be new…Our greatest contribution right now is advocating on behalf of the school and collaborating with the school board to ensure that this project makes it all the way through to completion so that we can all really really celebrate the fact that Gables High is a great looking school that matches its great academics,” June Morris said.
The school’s physical condition was not the only thing that motivated Morris to help create a support group for Gables. Her time as a student at the school has also inspired her to construct an environment where current Cavaliers can make long-lasting memories as she once did.
Graduating in 1979, Morris recalls that during her high school years most middle schoolers could not wait until they entered Gables as freshmen. Gables was the public school that the majority of students in her community attended. For this reason, it broke her heart to hear whispers of parents belittling the school based on its looks.
“I have heard parents say ‘Oh I would not send my child there, it is scary’… which shows that the look of the campus plays a big role despite the amazing academics. We are not supposed to judge a book by its cover but unfortunately, we do,” June Morris said.
Morris hopes parents will look past the peeling paint and focus on the countless opportunities the school has to offer. While the alum attended Gables, she took part in extracurriculars including the renowned Gablettes team. In her senior year, she decided to become a cheerleader and made the squad. As part of both the Highlights staff and drama, Morris experienced the various academies Gables had to offer. Her time in the Highlights staff seemed to resonate particularly as before she moved back to Coral Gables, Morris worked television news.
Her memories of the school have left her most excited to see the Gables’ new grassy open outdoor area. Morris hopes that in future plans, the school can rebuild the amphitheater it once had when she was a student. There, the cheerleaders and band could perform for the school and revive the Cavalier spirit. She wants current students to have the chance to experience the “old-fashioned” pep rallies with megaphones and loud cheering.
Morris never intended to end up back in Gables as an adult, but life seemed to bring her back to the place where her dreams flourished. FOGH has become the backbone of Gables and the proud alum hopes to watch it grow even further. She explains that Gables students should make the most of their high school experience and never forget where they came from.
“High school comes but once,… then from there, life gets pretty serious. Just enjoy yourself, be a good student…follow my example in terms of making the most of every moment at Gables High. You are lucky to be there, be proud to be a Cavalier,” June Morris said.