St. Raphael’s has traversed a century offering education to students from under-privileged backgrounds

Just on the other side of a big old tree, the air rings with laughter as schoolgirls in crimson uniforms go about their day. Walk into the office building with its latticed windows and Sister Ranjitham, the principal, is at her desk, surrounded by little plants in plastic jars and a blackboard come alive with chalk art.

St. Raphael’s Girls Higher Secondary School is celebrating its centenary year, after a humble beginning back in 1913. The school was started after the silver jubilee celebrations of its neighbouring St. Thomas Convent. “It was then that Mother Michael, the provincial superior for India, Ceylon and Burma of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary was thinking about a school to educate girls in and around the area,” says Sr. Ranjitham, “Since the area was a predominantly Brahmin settlement, the school started on July 28 with 10 Brahmin girls.”

Until 1946, the school offered only English medium education and celebrated its silver jubilee in 1938. “After 16 years, around 1920-1930, it became a Government-aided school,” explains Sr. Ranjitham, and after Independence, Tamil and Telugu mediums were introduced as well. But this was only for a few years. Soon, Rosary Matriculation offering English medium education was started and the Government passed a rule in 1970 to discontinue Telugu medium. So, we function as a Tamil-medium school now with one English-medium section for each class.”

A lot of the school’s 2,028 students are first-generation learners and the school helps them find their interests. Even as early as the 1960s, the school had a rather different mid-day meals scheme. “In the early days, when we were an English-medium school, it was the rich who would send their children here. After we introduced other mediums, we have had a motley group and a lot of them were from families of fishermen and blue-collar workers. In the 1960s, we asked children who could afford three meals a day to bring an extra box of food for those who couldn’t. We had even introduced uniforms by then,” she adds.

During the 2004 tsunami, a lot of the school’s students were affected and the school provided them support. “Even otherwise, we give them gifts during festivals and other occasions and sponsor about 50 students. At one time, we even provided them with breakfast since we found that many of them would come to school on an empty stomach.”

St. Raphael’s encourages other activities as well. “Dealing with these children is not just about making them study well and get ranks. Sometimes, you’ve to sit with them and help them find an aim, something they’re interested in. Only then will their years here be fruitful,” smiles Sr. Ranjitham.

St. Raphael’s organises its Centenary Alumni Meet on November 10 and Centenary Annual Day on December 1.