Thousands of students have passed through the hallowed portals of St Joseph's School which started in 1967 Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/XPRESS

Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi’s St Joseph’s School (SJS) has become 50 years old and its management has pulled out all the stops to celebrate the milestone.

The opening ceremony of the Golden Jubilee celebrations was held on April 20. Preparations are now in full swing for a slew of other year-long activities, chief among them being an alumni get-together in September and a grand Annual Day in November.

When SJS started in 1967 it had a rudimentary building, six classrooms, four teachers and less than 100 students. Fifty years on, the school has grown from strength to strength and now has 1,500 students.

Remarkable growth

To portray its remarkable growth, the school has created a cardboard tree with the names of all its students and teachers depicted on the leaves. “We made this tree as a symbol of our growth and how we have bloomed,” said principal Sister Carmen who completes a decade at the school this year.

“The Golden Jubilee could well be called the Year of Gratitude because we have so much to be thankful for. We are deeply indebted to our founders for their vision, foresight and unwavering commitment,” she said, adding that the anniversary will be an opportunity to celebrate the school’s place at the heart of the community. For the past five decades, St. Joseph’s School has unfailingly graduated individuals who have emerged as global citizens using their talents to make a difference in the world,” she said.

Music teacher Shanti Thinaharan, said she is overcome with nostalgia as she remembers the time when she joined the school 25 years ago. “Looking back, at the 25 years that has passed like a flash of lightning, I have so many moments to cherish, laugh about, remember fondly," she said. Swati Gadgil, who has been teaching at the school for 16 years, said she was happy to be part of an amazing journey. “It is heartening to see students who join the school as tiny tots blossom into confident young individuals,” said Swati.

Humble beginning

A brainchild of Fr. Barnabas, the school was built along the Corniche on a plot of land granted by the late Shaikh Shakhbut for a Catholic Church.

Those days SJS didn’t even have a school bus and a large sturdy Land Rover donated by Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Company (ADMA) was used to ferry students.

In 1983, the school moved from the Corniche to its present location at Al Mushrif where it was granted a plot of land by Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE. His unflinching support helped SJS make rapid strides in every sphere and soon it became the first choice of parents looking for quality education for their children.

Management

The school is managed by the Apostolic Vicariate of the Roman Catholic Church of Arabia. It is run under the patronage of Bishop Giovanni Bernardo Gremoli, but following his retirement the mantle has fallen on Paul Hinder, the current Bishop.

However, the day-to-day functioning is managed by the Carmelite Sisters of St. Theresa, led by the Principal, Sister Carmen.

Over the years, SJS has been consistently graded under Band A by the Abu Dhabi Educational Council (ADEC) with a Good rating in all areas. Recently, they were also nominated as Best Green Audit by the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi

The school has a tie-up with Al Etihad Sports Academy for developing outdoor sports like football and basketball.

To encourage reading, each classroom has a shelf filled with books. St. Joseph’s school is also one of the pilot schools selected for the Student Competence Framework (SCF). Introduced by ADEC into the curriculum, the Student Competence Framework is a comprehensive learning programme designed to equip students with skills, behaviours and competencies required for the 21st century.

“We strive to build values in our students so that they can go out in the world as socially responsible global citizens who stand up and be counted upon for the making of a better world,” said Sister Carmen.

Total recall

Former student Tushar Patni, who now heads Ajanta Jewellers, gets nostalgic as he reminisces about his school days at SJS. “I joined in grade 3 in 1973. I would have been the fifth batch. The school was a little bigger than a village school and had around 250 students,” he recalled.

“Because of the segregation law, boys were required to leave the school after the seventh grade,” said Patni as he recalled his childhood girlfriend Fouzia, alias Jerry who he is still in touch with through social media.

“Learning British history and geography was a bit daunting and there were times when I didn’t want to go to school. But my teachers saw some potential in me and steered me in the right direction.”

Patni said his most endearing memories are of their sports days. “They were full of fun and I remember how we used to cheer our teams in the hot blazing sun. Sports activities were limited to football for boys and netball for girls, but we were content with them. Although all of us were expatriates we formed very strong friendship bonds, some of which have lasted for 37 years,” he said.