Since our founding in 1895 as an orphanage in Marin County, Side by Side has been at the forefront of best practices in child welfare, working with the most vulnerable youth in our community. Over the past century, the orphanage evolved to become a therapeutic residential treatment program. In 1965, four cottages and administration buildings, including school facilities, were constructed on Side by Side’s bucolic 31-acre campus nestled in San Anselmo’s rolling hills. Academic instruction continued alongside the residential program, and was strengthened with a merger in 1999 with another community organization – Children’s Garden – and their K-8 school program, the Marin Academic Center.
During the mid to late 2000s, Side by Side closed our Marin County residential homes and restructured our Marin County mental health services to a community-based model, while sustaining the services of the Marin Academic Center as a day school for students with behavioral, emotional, and/or mental health challenges. In 2012, through the generosity of Pat and Irene Hunt, Side by Side was able to renovate and reconfigure two of the four residential cottages to create classrooms for school use, and the Marin Academic Center was re-dedicated as the Irene M. Hunt School. The expansion allowed the school to more than double its enrollment from 23 students to a capacity of 48 students and to add high school classes. Community need spurred continued expansion and today the Hunt School offers specialized education and therapeutic services for up to 64 students.
Currently, the Irene M. Hunt School is Marin’s only non-public school that serves youth with behavioral and mental health challenges. The school consistently operates at capacity or near capacity with waiting lists for many of the classrooms. Because of its stellar reputation and proven track record of successfully re-integrating students back into their neighborhood schools, demand remains high and the school attracts students from neighboring counties, including Sonoma, Contra Costa, Alameda, and San Francisco.
In August 2019, the Hunt School underwent its most recent expansion – from 48 to 64 students – that was in part due to our accommodation of students from a nearby non-public school closing. Because of the necessary one month turnaround and limitations on appropriately permitted space for new classrooms, we converted part of our administration building into two small temporary classrooms designed for high school students (each accommodating 7-8 students) rather than explore other space options.
COVID-19 social distancing requirements then rendered those spaces unusable. However, as noted earlier, the 2012 renovation only addressed two of the existing four cottages on campus. With the special circumstances COVID imposed, the Hunt School was able to secure a temporary permit to be able to use those buildings. Once the temporary use permit ends next year, our high school will be forced to return to the insufficient and constrained classrooms in our administration building.
Our vision is to rehabilitate the two temporarily used structures, bringing them in line with school building codes. Your investment in this project will deeply impact our Hunt School students by significantly enhancing the school facilities and providing an environment that is even more conducive to their learning and social-emotional development.