Names, dates, and numbers, they never stick in my head. Feb 6, 1995 is an exception to the rule. It was the day that my dad announced that he was leaving the institution that he had given his youth to, to start out on his own.
It sounded like he had a plan worked out. We, his family, knew that all he had was a vision, a dream and a logo of his ‘good shepherd’. In the months to come, we gave up on so much – the security of a home and a colony that was our sanctuary, the cheques that would keep the kitchen running and of course even the name and the logo that dad had designed (most people couldn’t say “Good Shepherd” right, after all). People they reached out to for help gave nothing but “good luck and blessings”. My brother and I gave up on our school education for a few months simply because of the harassment that was being meted out for being the children of the ex-principal.
Dad, we learned, was a fighter and mom his strongest ally. Together they were, they are, an unbeatable force and they had God on their side. When family failed, friends stepped in. A professor gave up his dream to stay in the house he had built so dad could use the space to start up. Old colleagues joined them without the surety of a pay. And with a few hundreds in their account, dad and mom started St. Thomas School 20 years ago in a small town called Bahadurgarh in a time where Christmas was unheard of and children still had to travel 30 km for a decent secondary education.
When applications opened, we prayed we would receive 200. We had 425. We were short of space. In the months to come, people moved out of their homes to rented spaces so we would have a building. When buildings fell short, we put up sheds in empty plots. Every day was a new challenge, but my folks were relentless. Year after year, the classes grew and so did the school.
A lot has changed in the past two decades. In a place, where we had to walk an hour for a matchbox to light the stove, there are huge markets now. Education became a business. Competition soared, churning out stories of the school being sold, a new management taking over and speculation on how things were going wrong in the life of Sir’s family.
But some things remain. Dad wakes up at 5 am each day as he did twenty years ago so he is the first one to reach the school. The 3pm call to know that the buses are back and each child is home safe. The same stress at the time of admissions, how do we say no? Where do we get more space?
I live amidst a community that questions schooling and a pedagogy that they say belongs to the past. I have often been a severe critic of the school but I have seen personalization and inclusion being practiced in this age-old system even before these words became a norm. Today as I see my niece and nephew dress up in excitement to head to school or their love for their homework and what they learn, I am bowled over. Over the years, I see at STS an openness to change, to question and to transform.
St. Thomas School is a reflection of what it stands for – hard work and perseverance.
It is a story of two people who made a foreign land their home and gave generations to come an opportunity to learn, to grow and to excel. Today as I see students of STS far and wide, doing so well, I swell with pride. As I see my classmates choosing STS as a place for their kids, I know my folks got it right.
Happy 20th, STS!