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HISTORY OF FRIENDS SCHOOL

 

Friends School has a long and honored history in Palestine and it is interesting to trace the origins of our two schools of which we are justly proud. The history of the Friends School is one closely tied with the history of Palestine.  Over the last one hundred and fifty years, the School have experienced Turkish, British, Jordanian, and Israeli occupation, world wars, and closures. The Friends School in their checkered political history has served not only as schools but as a center for refugees, as a hospital, as a center for community lectures, concerts and other cultural activities.

The Ottoman Empire

Friends work began in 1869 with a number of small schools for girls in the villages surrounding Ramallah. In October 1889 Friends Girls School opened as “The Girls Training Home of Ramallah”. The fifteen students who enrolled the first year came from Lydd, Jaffa, Aboud, Jerusalem, Beirut and Ramallah, and six years later the first class graduated. Miss Katie Gabriel from Lebanon was the first principal, serving eighteen years. In 1897 the first addition was made to the original two-story house. That was the present girls’ dining room with adjoining room and hallway, and a dormitory above, which is now Swift Hall. Gradually, class by class was added until Friends Girls School became a secondary as well as an elementary school. In 1910 the third floor dormitory was added. A Boys Training Home was founded in 1901, at the urging of community members, for the purpose of providing Palestinian boys a rigorous academic program under girded by the principles of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).  The school was first housed in a building near the Friends Girls School in Ramallah and as the school grew from its initial enrolment of 15 students, land was bought in El-Bireh in 1905 and the first stone of the main building laid in 1913. The first experiments in mixed classes of boys and girls began in 1902, the two training homes for Boys and for Girls had classes together for one and half hours a day and it was hailed as a great success.  The Friends Meeting House in the centre of Ramallah was built in 1910.

 First World War

 In 1914 the Friends Boys School Main Building was completed but it only came into use as a school in 1918. The Girls Training Home and the Boys School like all other schools in Palestine were closed throughout the war. During those years Turkish and then British troops occupied the buildings. British troops used  the Boys School as a hospital in 1917.

British Mandate

Both schools reopened in 1919. At the newly named ‘Friends Girls School, day students, as well as boarders were accepted. Electric light was first used at the schools in 1923. Building at the Girls School continued and in 1925 the remainder of the third floor was constructed. At that time the former dormitory on the second floor was converted into an assembly room and named Swift Hall in honour of Sara J. Swift of New England. The home economics cottage was built in 1929 and Whittier Hall in honour of Alice Whittier Jones in 1934. Boys first took the Palestinian Matriculation examination in Jerusalem in 1926. The Lowell Jones Library was given by Rufus Jones in 1928.  Tennis courts were added in 1927. Grant Hall was built in 1933.

Partition/Expulsion

The partition of Palestine in 1948 and the subsequent expulsion of many Palestinians again changed the character of the School. Friends Meeting House and the School grounds as they became the temporary home for refugees. School numbers swelled to accommodate refugees from the coastal cities. The White Gifts giving was instituted to give foodstuffs and money to needy families. There was a conscious endeavour to increase the Schools’ scholarship support. As World War Two came to an end, once again the schools continued to struggle to be a positive influence in a troubled world.

Jordanian Rule

The schools had a relatively peaceful life during the Jordanian period from 1948-1967. The fifth secondary class of the Friends Girls School was added in 1956, and plans were ready for opening the sixth secondary in 1963. In 1962 four classrooms were added to Whittier Hall.

Israeli Occupation

Following Israeli occupation the boarding sections in both schools were closed, as students from neighboring countries were no longer able to come. Since the very earliest years of the schools’ foundation, both boys and girls from the two separate schools had shared some classes and this strategy had proved successful. Both boys and girls were always taught together from Kindergarten to Grade 2. The upper Kindergarten had begun very early in the Friends Girls School history and was permanently expanded to the Lower Kindergarten in 1983. There was a growing belief that co-education was educationally sound and could work well in Palestine. As the first Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, grew in strength, enrolment plummeted. The financial situation also put pressure on the Board to look closely at how to use the resources of the two schools more efficiently.  In 1990, the campus of the Girls School became a co-educational Elementary School and Kindergarten and the campus of the Boys School became a co-educational High School. When both schools are fully occupied, FGS will have 580 pupils in Kindergarten and grades 1 to 6 and FBS  470 boys and girls in grades 7 to 12. 

Palestinian National Authority

Following the Oslo agreements, the uneasy peace brought greater stability to the schools with the emergence for the first time of a government in waiting that had a real interest in Palestinian education. The second Intifada began in September 2000. Since the beginning of the second uprising, the Schools have been in the center of towns exposed to a new level of violence with sequences of nightly shelling from Israeli tanks and light artillery and attacks by helicopter gunners. The psychological well being of our parents, students and staff  was shaken and our enrolment figures fell to 370 pupils in the FBS and 540 in the FGS in 2000/2001 as families left for America and elsewhere to escape the violence. The expansion of the Friends Girls School to three classes in each grade from 1 to 6 will be complete by September 2003. However, in the past following each tragedy the school has recovered, maintaining its reputation as a leading academic center in the Palestinian community. Despite everything today the Schools continue to demonstrate the resilience and patience of the Palestinian community keeping alive the hope and vision of a better future and to demonstrate the willingness of our Friends and Alumni overseas to help financially when the school’s viability is threatened.

 

 
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