Have you ever wondered what AISB was like before you attended? As an international school, students come and go all the time, becoming a small part of the school’s story, but have you ever stopped to think of how AISB began, and how it came to be what it is today?
To answer this question, we consulted the commemorative book, Celebrating Fifty Years and Beyond: 1962-2012, written by Catalina Gardescu and published in 2012. This book details the history and evolution of the school as well as the transitions between campuses. (For an earlier article on this book published on The Bite, read this.)
In 1962, William Crawford (then US Ambassador to Romania) made the decision with his wife to open ASB (American School of Bucharest) because diplomat and other foreign children had nowhere to attend school. His wife had previous experience directing the American School in Prague, so she took hold of the situation and was able to find some people willing to support the idea.
According to the commemorative book, “The American School of Bucharest was born on the first floor of a house on Vasile Conta street. The classes, in which two teachers (one of whom was also the Principal, Pat Polvika, the spouse of the Military Attaché at the Legation) educated six students, took place in two rooms, while the third room of the apartment was ‘the office.’”
In the coming years the numbers grew, an official director was brought to the school, and students of other nationalities joined. The first non-American student was Japanese, and British students joined shortly thereafter.
Despite the many challenges caused by both natural disasters and the communist Ceaușescu regime, ASB ventured on and eventually moved to a new location to house the growing number of international students.
In 1999, ASB changed its name to AISB, to more accurately reflect the global community at the school. At this time, the school was split between three campuses. The campuses were the Laptari campus, Costinescu campus and Dorobanti campus. To accommodate the ever increasing number of students and bring them all to one campus, it was decided that a custom campus needed to be built.
So we reach the point where we say goodbye to our beautiful home at Dorobantilor no. 39.Chris Muller
Muller continues the reflection on transitions, in an excerpt from the commemorative book: “‘Our cozy family home with its guardian angel looking down from the gable. The place that is brimming with memories, from academic trials and tribulations to victories and defeats on the sports field, to sharing intellectual and cultural pursuits with people from in and outside of our community.’”
Challenges of Building a Custom Campus
Of course, building a custom campus does not come free of obstacles, two of which include getting land on which to build the school, and getting money for the build.
Fortunately, Fathi Taher, the parent of an AISB alumnus, was able to help the school find a location for the campus. Taher recognized the value of international education. Because of the value he placed in this education, and the role AISB played in his children’s lives, he graciously provided the school with the land it currently sits on.
Even with the campus location, the school could not be built without money. The building of the campus required a €20,000,000 loan. After much convincing, AISB was able to get two separate Austrian banks to split the substantial loan.
With the money and the campus, AISB was able to negotiate the price of building the school down from €29,000,000 to the amount of money loaned from the Austrian banks. From there, the builders began construction and, on April 13, 2000, the groundbreaking ceremony was held.
Without the help from Taher, the Austrian banks, the faculty and the strong team of professionals that designed, built and supported the school, AISB wouldn’t have been able to secure the Pipera campus.
AISB Community Reacts to the Move to Pipera
In the winter of the 2001-2002 school year, the entire AISB community finally moved into the Pipera campus.
At the time, seventh grade students wrote poems about what the experience was like. Thomas Brian wrote one titled “First Impressions.” An excerpt from the poem reads:
You anticipate the immense joy you will have Exploring the vast maze of halls. And you will imagine the pleasure Of using the expanse of facilities at your disposal. There is only one place where this may all be achieved That is here, Rebirth.
Students in the elementary school shared this same excitement.
Elementary and Early Childhood Art teacher Angela Achim witnessed the transition herself. On the excitement elementary school students felt, she says, “They were very happy in their former ‘homes’ at Laptari and Costinescu, but they loved the new space, and especially loved playing on grass.”
For the teachers who came to the school in the weeks prior to its opening, the school didn’t look as inviting yet, and could be described as “empty” and “sparse,” but they were very excited by the potential they saw.
It wasn’t warm and welcoming at first, because we hadn’t lived in it yet.Angela Achim
To add to the feeling of apprehension, the very first day the faculty came to the school (about two weeks before the opening), there were problems with plumbing and the school had no running water. The faculty had to be sent home.
Nevertheless, Achim says, forever resilient and flexible, when the doors of the school were finally opened to the students, the teachers were able to benefit from the increase in space and facilities, and gradually make it their new home.
The opening line of their school song went like this: “Here we are together, building our future forever.”
Prior to teaching at Pipera, Achim was teaching two lessons in the former kitchen of the Zambaccian Art Museum. This kitchen had no windows, and was in the basement of the museum. She would then drive over to the Laptari Campus where she had a small Art room, to teach all the Kindergarten to Grade 2 classes. So moving to one fresh, large, purpose-built Art room at the new campus was a vast improvement.
How has AISB evolved over the years?
Over the years, AISB has experienced other changes apart from switching campuses, including changes in education systems and shifts in the community feeling of the school. The IB program was only introduced a few years before AISB moved into Pipera.
This integration came at a cost. Elementary teacher Johanna Rusu was a high school student at Dorobantilor when the IB program was adopted. When asked about her experiences as a student, specifically about taking the IB exams, Rusu says: “The options were very limited, and I didn’t feel like we were really prepared.”
The Dorobanti campus was not equipped for students to take the exams, Rusu claims, and the students instead had to take them at the cashier’s office which was down the road.
However, when the school moved to Pipera, the IB program developed and more options were made available due to better facilities and an increase in student numbers.
We’ve grown as a school in the IB department.Johanna Rusu
One of the most noticeable changes that came from moving to Pipera was a change in the community feeling. Previously, the community felt tight-knit because everyone knew everyone. While the school was spread out amongst three campuses, one would know everyone at their specific campus.
Achim says it “was hard to get to know everyone.” At the Dorobanti campus, she says, “you knew everybody and everyone’s names, but it’s because the schools were so small.”
This same sentiment was shared by most people at the school. Rusu says: “The building [Dorobanti] made it seem like we knew everyone. Then, when we moved here and I started working it was very hard to get to know everyone and because it was such a big campus. Sometimes I feel like I don’t know all the teachers from Secondary and from ELC.”
Even though they were all spread out, it was beneficial to have the ELC, Elementary, and High School students all attend school on the same campus and this is now part of AISB’s appeal. By the time the Secondary school joined AISB in January, many of the minor wrinkles had already been ironed out, and things began to run more smoothly over time.
From being located on the second floor of a house downtown to a full custom built campus, AISB has undergone significant evolution over the years. The enrollment numbers have grown from as few as six back in the 1960s to briefly enrolling over 1,000 in the mid-2010s, and currently hovers in the 940 range.
If interested in learning more about the history of AISB, the book Celebrating Fifty Years and Beyond: 1962-2012 can be found in the Secondary Library. Please contribute more stories from your years as a teacher or student at AISB from years past in the comments below!