TRABUCO CANYON : School Built in 1879 Still Flourishing

The days of the old two-room school are still alive in the canyon, sort of.

Old Trabuco School, an elementary school built in 1879, still has only two permanent classrooms--plus 15 portable rooms and trailers.

“We’ve got portables everywhere we can find space on the campus to put them,” said Mary Lou Smith, planning specialist for the district.

Only seven years ago, administrators in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District were facing the unpleasant dilemma of how to to save the historic, quaint school, because it had too few students.


“It had only 75 to 100 students and we were struggling with the issue of how to justify keeping it open,” Smith said. “This is a school that used to be its own school district until our district unified in 1978.”

Today, just the opposite is true, although not because the canyon has changed. Only 70 students from Trabuco Canyon attend the school, but this year there are 155 students from Coto de Caza, part of the Capistrano Unified School District. And another 248 come from Robinson Ranch.

With more development in those areas already under way, the predicted student population in September is estimated to be 520 students, too many for the four-acre site next to O’Neill Regional Park, Smith said.

Two new elementary schools in Rancho Santa Margarita will solve the problem eventually. One will open next Thanksgiving, with the other scheduled for 1992.


“We are asking any parents with students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade to volunteer to go to the new elementary school in Rancho Santa Margarita,” said Bill Manahan, the district’s business director.

In addition, incoming students from the Coto de Caza and Robinson Ranch areas who do not have brothers or sisters already at Trabuco will be required to go to the new Rancho Santa Margarita, currently being called Eastlake II.

For canyon residents such as Sherry Baerg, Trabuco School’s current growing pains represent just one more change. As of next September, three generations of her family will have attended Trabuco since her grandparents moved to the canyon in 1948.

“I look at the school now and wonder where all the students and teachers came from,” Baerg said. “When I graduated from Trabuco in 1972 we had a total of 63 students in all seven grades. Four of the grades were housed in one room.”