In 1955, Eleanor (El) and Frank Costa had no plans to start a school; they had their hands full raising children and growing their small business. But the family’s triumph over tragedy that winter changed the course of their lives and created a legacy of love that continues to serve children and young adolescents today.
When their son Jim was stricken with meningitis, the Costas mustered deep reserves of faith and made a deal with each other as the boy’s life hung in the balance. They promised that if their son recovered, they would commit their lives to serving others. Miraculously, Jim survived and the Costas kept their promise. In 1956, the couple founded Playtime Haven, a modest in-home daycare that would eventually become Breakwater School.
Playtime Haven opened its doors to six infants and toddlers from the Portland area. The demand for quality child care was greater than the Costas had envisioned, and within two years, the center’s enrollment topped 80 children, ranging in age from infants to five-year-olds. During the 1960s and early 70s, the center expanded its educational offerings to include a Kindergarten and first grade, which were soon followed by the addition of grades 2 through 5. In 1973, Breakwater School was formally renamed and incorporated as a non-profit school.
The new name arose from the Costas' vision of the School as a breakwater that provides children a “safe harbor” in which they feel nurtured and protected as they navigate the sometimes choppy waters of childhood. The Costas knew then what educational research now bears out--that children must first feel safe in order to learn and grow. “By the time they’re ready to go beyond the breakwater,” explains El, “they’re strong enough and wise enough to take care of themselves in heavy seas.”
As the School evolved over the next several decades, the vision that guided Eleanor and Frank Costa has remained constant. Breakwater continues to be a place where children flourish both socially and academically within a safe, inclusive, and stimulating environment. Located since 1982 on the corner of Brighton Avenue and Capisic Street in Portland, our campus has become not only a physical landmark but a beacon of educational excellence in the community.
In 2008, after a successful sixth grade pilot, Breakwater extended its programming to include a Middle School, which now serves students in grades 6 through 8. The following year, we revisited our early roots by adding a Toddler Program, and in 2010 began offering year-round Early Childhood options to accommodate our busy families. While the school has expanded its programming over the years, it has maintained its small school environment and the essence of the Costas' vision. Eleanor and Frank Costa formally retired from Breakwater in 1985. Eleanor passed away at the age of 101 but continued to be an integral part of the School until the end of her life.
When asked what the essence of Breakwater is, El doesn’t hesitate with her one-word response. “Love,” she affirms. “That’s what it begins with--everything else grows from there.”