Woodstock: A Himalayan 'dream school'

INDIAN EXPRESS - 4 Oct. 1995

Mussoorie, Oct 3.

As the road bifurcates from Mussoories's Landaur Bazar, one way goes to Ruskin Bond's house while the other takes the visitor towards the extremely picturesque, Himalayan "dream school" named 'Woodstock', reports UNI.

As one heads for the school, young students from all over the world meet the eye, some taking a walk while others lingering at the shops in Landaur. Their carefree manner and casual attire say ` a lot about the school's philosophy and ideology.

On arrival at the school, the breathtaking beauty of the premises often turns people speechless. The tall pine and deodar trees give a majestic air to the steep, wooded campus located in the first range of the Himalayas. The oldest school of its type in the world, Woodstock was founded in 1854 and has been functioning with a break since then in the same campus.

Woodstock was opened as an English medium school and was managed for the first 20 years by a local society with staff provided by an English mission. During these years it was primarily a girls' school. By the end of this period there was an increasing demand for a school in North India with an American curriculum that would prepare students for American colleges and universities. By 1928, a full American programme had been introduced at Woodstock.

Since then, Woodstock has been providing the best of Western education in addition to opportunities afforded by an international student body and an Indian location.

Talking to UNI, Ms. Cathy E. Holmes, Director of Admissions, said the school provided a university preparatory programme leading to an American high school diploma, the American advanced placement examinations and the London University G.C.E. 'O' and 'A' level examinations.

Woodstock is built on the side of a mountain. The two main classroom buildings are at an altitude of about 2,000 metres. The hillside above the school rises to the height of 2,300 metres. The school campus covers 50 hectares of thick mountain forests. Just below the high school is the original school building. This is one of the oldest buildings in Mussoorie, parts of its being over 150 years old.

From the ridge above Woodstock, one can see the magnificent panorama of the high snow-covered ranges whose peaks rise to more than 6,000 metres along India's northern border with Tibet. Looking south from the school, one can see the Doon Valley 1,700 metres below. The environment holds many fascinations and opportunities for the students who find as many as a hundred different kinds of ferns for their biology collection in the immediate vicinity of the school. Woodstock has students from as many as 35 different nationalities. Around 20 percent are from North America, 43 per cent from India and the remainder from countries including Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Nepal, Korea, Germany and Bangladesh.

Such a student body, said Ms. Holmes, provides a unique opportunity to mix with and learn from fellow students from different backgrounds and cultures. The teaching staff also reflects this international mix, with teachers from the U.S., Canada, Britain, India, New Zealand and Australia.

One of the chief aims of the school, said Ms. Holmes, is the development of character according to the teachings of Jesus Christ. There are a number of opportunities to learn more of the Christian faith. Students attend an assembly every school day which incorporates a brief devotional period and on Sundays, services are held which are geared to the tastes and experiences of the people involved.

Extra-curricular hiking is a Woodstock tradition. Long week-ends and holidays are spent in trekking by many hiking enthusiasts. There are 'easy' hikes such as the six km trek to Pepper Pot or more strenuous hikes to places like Nag Tibba, 42 km into the Himalayas.

For many years now, Woodstock has had a strong music programme. About 200 of the school's 450 students take private lessons in piano, woodwinds, brass and strings. The school has three choirs, three bands and two orchestras. Concerts in the spring and autumn are highlights of the school year. Advance music students and staff members perform regularly with the Delhi Symphony Orchestra. A full Indian music concert is given by the school each spring.

The famous Landaur Bazar is what really gives Woodstock its Asian atmosphere. A scenic one-and-a-half km walk from the campus, it contains the sights and smells of authentic India. Without these reminders, a student might believe that he or she was attending an American or a European high school, for the curriculum contains everything from the arts and sciences to world languages and world religions.

Students like to explore all the fascinating possibilities of the Landour, Kulri, Sister's, Mussoorie and Library bazaars of this hill town. They visit 'darzis' who can make any article of clothing if you show them a picture. The cobblers make a pair of suede hiking shoes in a week.

Visitors to Mussoorie are often surprised to see groups of Woodstock students on the Mall Road as each group contains children from different countries, bound together by the Woodstock experience.

Coming away from the exotic atmosphere of this unique school, the visitor feels as though he were walking out of a dream world of sunshine back into the shadows of reality.

NOTE: the above was sent by Gil Osgood (UOregon) on 28 Jan 1996.

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