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Chennai’s Sishya school turns 50

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The oldest building on campus belongs to a complex once owned by the Travancore royals
| Photo Credit: VELANKANNI RAJ B

It is a blustery day with the promise of a thunderstorm. The PT teacher blows his whistle, signalling to boys skirting the puddles in the playground to get back to their classrooms. A parade of umbrellas, under them a gaggle of girls, makes its way to the tuck shop adjoining the principal’s office. Despite the weather, little ruffles the calm of the urbanely self-confident atmosphere at Sishya school in Adyar.

A file photo of the oldest building on the campus

A file photo of the oldest building on the campus
| Photo Credit:
Special arrangement

The confidence-building exercise has been on for 50 years now, ever since Sishya’s founder KI Thomas (affectionately called KIT) and its co-founders Thangam Thomas and Grace Cherian, brought their experiences honed at other hallowed institutions across the country, to establish the school in 1972.

Looking back

KIT graduated from Madras Christian College, following it up with a post-graduation in Teaching from Edinburgh and London during the War years. He taught at Rajkot and Sindh before settling down in sylvan Lovedale in 1951 where he became the headmaster of Lawrence School, with the onerous task of transforming the British military institution into one of India’s premier public schools.

At the basketball court

At the basketball court
| Photo Credit:
VELANKANNI RAJ B

Thangam, his wife who studied at Lady Irwin College, Delhi, is credited with naming the new school they founded.

Grace, who had taught at Lovedale and the other Lawrence school at Sanawar, was the first to be recruited, teaching math and manners, aided by a blackboard and her booming voice.

The school is now run by the KIT Thomas Educational Society, with KIT’s daughter-in-law Omana Thomas at its helm. “Sishya began with 25 students. Today, we have 1,200. On campus, we also have Chennai’s first French school, Ecole Franco Indienne Sishya. One follows the ICSE/ISE curriculum, the other follows the French baccalaureate. Over the years, we have expanded but our core values to ‘Aspire and Excel’ have remained unchanged,” says Omana.

The Ecole Franco Indienne Sishya follows the French baccalaureate curriculum

The Ecole Franco Indienne Sishya follows the French baccalaureate curriculum
| Photo Credit:
VELANKANNI RAJ B

The school that began on Edward Elliot’s road moved to a many-pillared, vanilla shuttered, red-tiled house that belonged to a complex once owned by the royals of Travancore. It lends the campus an old-world charm.

Kaveri Bharath, ceramicist and past president of the alumni, and Lekshmy Nair, who teaches English language and literature for Class XII students, lead a tour around the rain-soaked grounds.

We walk past KIT’s bust lording over the entrance and basketball court, past the three-storeyed library and the Travancore house that has administrative offices.

“Not taking the childhood out of the child has been a core principle of Sishya,” says Sandhya Thomas, Psychology teacher. “Mental health is a priority and kids can walk in anytime to meet the four counsellors on campus.”

A photography class in progress

A photography class in progress
| Photo Credit:
Special arrangement

“Sishya has always been a child-centric school,” says Kaveri, “something unusual in the 1970s. It had no uniform for a while, academics was encouraged but the thrust was on extracurricular and cultural activities. Biology classes with Jayakumar (fondly known as Jakes) meant standing in a drizzle and digging for worms in the school grounds which was once a lake and spotting the birds that visited.”

The bust of KI Thomas

The bust of KI Thomas
| Photo Credit:
VELANKANNI RAJ B

This seemingly happy space pushed Sishya to host events that find a place on the cultural map of the city’s school calendar such as Sishyamrita (inter-school culturals), Sishmun (model United Nations) and sport-related events. “The Sishya fete continues to be a crowd-puller,” says Kaveri.

Lekshmy adds, “To mark the golden jubilee, the school had organised an art and literary festival featuring a host of alumni in various fields and celebrity speakers such as Jonathan Gil Harris, writer and professor of English, Ashoka University.

“The alumni shares a strong bond, meeting twice a year,” says Kaveri, “many are parents of students, continuing to come back to a campus they love.”



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