Thunder’s First “Lifer” Leigh Dalton ‘99 Looks Back on Time at ODA
Leigh Dalton '99 entered Pre-Kindergarten at Out-of-Door in 1985. She was part of ODA's first freshman class when the Uihlein Campus opened in 1996, and the first graduating class of seniors in 1999. Leigh looks back and shares her memories of being ODA's first "Lifer."
I entered Pre-Kindergarten at ODA in 1985 and graduated with the first graduating Upper School class in 1999. Through the lower and middle school grades, I had many amazing teachers including Carol Carney, Mike Young, Kathy Dozier, and Pam Davis. During 8th grade, word began to circulate that the school was considering adding a high school for grades 9-12.
We had a small class enrolled in 9th grade. Our class would be the first for each grade level, and each enrolling class after us would help to grow the program. We broke ground at the Lakewood Ranch campus in 1995 during my freshman year, but attended classes in the Presbyterian church in Siesta Key until the middle of 10th grade while construction was taking place. The school leaders looked to our class for input—we were asked about the school mascot, colors, the dress code, and more. Allowing us to have a say in the development of the school gave us a sense of ownership throughout the process. We moved into the Lakewood Ranch campus in the spring of 1996, and although the gym floor wasn’t quite finished, we were excited to be in our new high school.
Many of the students in our class came up through the lower and middle school together, so we knew each other well. We took class trips together every year including white water rafting and camping, and an Outward Bound trip through the Everglades. The trips were fun, hard work, stretched our comfort zones, and it taught us what it really meant to work cooperatively.
In May of 1999, ODA graduated its first class of 12 seniors. I was the first student at ODA who had attended ODA from Pre-K through high school graduation—the first ODA “Lifer.” ODA alumni tend to spread far and wide, but thanks to social media, I can stay in contact with many of my former classmates. I love seeing what everyone has achieved, the places they travel to and their beautiful families.
When it comes to educating my children, ODA is the only option for our children. I know that the educational experience our boys will have at ODA is incomparable to anything else in the area. Having been a student there myself, and having worked as a substitute at ODA, I know most of the teachers well. I trust them, and I know that they are not only exceptional educators, but also caring and warm individuals. To have my boys taught by some of the teachers who taught me is a meaningful experience that can only happen at O