Dear Kodai Friends and Family,
Warm greetings from KIS!
It’s hard to believe, but I have now been “back” at Kodai for over a decade. In fact, this is my twelfth year as an administrator here. It’s stunning to think back over the past ten years and consider the many ways that KIS has changed, but also the many ways in which its essence continues to endure across the years, amid vast demographic changes and through cyclones and pandemics.
Every so often, I think about how best to describe Kodai to alumni who haven’t been in Kodai since graduation, or who haven’t kept in touch over the years.
Statistics can help a little. KIS now has 485 students from Grades Pre-K through 12, representing 19 nationalities. This semester, for instance, we enrolled new students from “predictable” places, such as India, the U.S., Canada, Germany, and Bangladesh, but we also welcomed students from Myanmar, Russia, and the Netherlands.
By way of comparison, the student strength when I graduated in 1986 was about 400; twenty years earlier, in 1966, there were just over 380 students at KIS. (Interestingly, there were 150 high school students in 1966; 250 in 1986; and 340 in 2023.) At the start of the 2020-2021 school year, due to the pandemic, we dropped back below 400. Right now, it feels like we are sitting at a good functional capacity that is larger than when most of you attended here, but the right size to continue to offer the inimitable “Kodai Experience” to our students.
The majority of our professional staff are now Indian; in 1986, most of our staff were from the U.S. However, there are other ways to measure our international identity: Glancing through my 1986 yearbook, I count staff members from about 12 different nationalities, whereas this semester at KIS we have staff from 17 different nationalities, including, for instance, from Nicaragua, South Africa, Uganda, Côte D’Ivoire, and Croatia. There is certainly a smaller percentage of international staff, but the actual diversity of our staff members has expanded.
We continue to offer the International Baccalaureate curriculum, as we have proudly done since the mid-1970s. Perhaps the biggest change in this regard is that, here in 2023, the vast majority of our students are full-diploma IB candidates; whereas when I graduated from high school, only 15% of my (very smart) class attempted the full IB diploma. At the same time, we have maintained many of the classes that helped to define our “pre-IB” values and practices, such as Health, Religious Education, Physical Education, Drama, and Social Experience…and of course, our Music department is as strong as ever!
For those interested, canteen is still called canteen (although it happens only once a month or so) and the dispensary is still the Dish. Very few students go to the Budge anymore, although I’m sure that every student continues to go the B, even if the nickname is no longer in style.
One big change is that all the student residences on the Highclerc main campus are girls’ dorms, while all boys now live off campus at East House, Bartlett, Loch End, and the newer dorms on the Ganga (formerly the LCA) Compound. Other than the children of staff members, we are no longer enrolling day scholars at KIS.
A fuller picture of Kodai School today emerges through the people that form our community. I’m thankful for two new leaders here at KIS: Our new Vice Principal, Ms. Cindy Beals, and our new Dean of Residential Life, Captain Harish Pillai. They have both fit into KIS so seamlessly that I feel they must be Kodai School alumni. Actually, Cindy’s grandfather attended Kodai School over 100 years ago, as did her uncle in the 1950s!
Over 15% of the staff at KIS are either alumni or are the spouses of alumni, and we have almost ten staff members back at KIS after moving away earlier in their careers. It’s fun to work with people that I also went to school with, including several that have recently joined us, including Voice and Choir teacher Elizabeth (Easter) Jones (Class of ’91); Economics professor on a one-year sabbatical, Feler Bose (Class of ’91); and our Development Officer, Kalyani Gandhi (Class of ’87). Niyati Parekh (Class of ’92), a professor of public health and nutrition at the NYU School of Global Public Health, is in Kodai this month taking part in a program organized by the KIS Center of Environment and Humanity, which happens to be coordinated by Iti Maloney (Class of ’11). Arya Diwase (Class of ’14) has been back on campus in recent months, after KIS hired her firm, Application Ally, to set up a program to help KIS students with the college admissions process. We are also happy to have our first St. Olaf student teacher at KIS this semester since before the pandemic. (And I look forward to sharing more about another set of remarkable people in our community—our students—in a future letter.)
But perhaps the very best way to explain KIS in 2023 is to describe some of the events that have transpired here over the first month of the new school year. For instance:
- Two weeks ago, over two-thirds of the high school, along with 15 chaperones, travelled to Madurai to take part in the global phenomenon of Barbenheimer, watching both movies, Barbie and Oppenheimer, back to back. It was a wonderful experience, and the student conversations around both films have been immensely rich, before and after our trip. We are particularly proud of the fact that the historian Kai Bird, who co-wrote the Pulitzer-prize-winning biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer that served as source material for the movie, graduated from Kodai School in 1969. (And I’m fairly sure that Barbara and Kenneth attended KIS in the mid-1950s.)
- Last week, 31 (31!) students were inducted into the KIS Chapter of the National Honor Society at the high school assembly. It was gratifying to see these great young people, with boundless potential, join the NHS as they began to plan out their year of activities. This strong sense of service at KIS was amplified by the school’s recognition of Mr. Anthony, a long-serving school maintenance worker, for being identified as the most prolific blood donor in Kodai over the last twenty years. The students’ standing ovation of Anthony was heartfelt and joyous to behold!
- Recently, the KIS Center for Environment and Humanity unveiled “Birds of the Shola Sky Islands,” a permanent exhibit at the Center, in partnership with the National Geographic Society, featuring the work of Delhi-based artist Niharika Rajput. Given the pressing environmental challenges confronting our region, this project integrates art, education, and storytelling to promote biodiversity conservation, and is a wonderful resource for all of Kodaikanal.
- This week in assembly, I was astounded by student presentations on their initiatives as part of KIS’s Carbon Net Neutral Project. Students shared projects that they are currently working on—in their spare time—on KIS campuses. From carbon sequestration, heating efficiency, rainwater harvesting sensors, wind turbines, waste management, and the Internet of Things… these are real-world applications, and KIS students are the changemakers!
And this has all been in less than a month. As the semester continues, we look forward to the installation of our new Design lab/MakerSpace facility on the Ganga campus; beginning our plans to transform the Jane Cummings (Class of ‘57) high school library complex into a state-of-the-art learning center; and constructing a new Physics lab, with funds donated by Nakul Toshniwal (Class of ’93), over the winter break.
As always, we look forward to hearing from you and we absolutely love it when you make the journey up the ghat to visit us. Here’s to a great school year for KIS!
Corey Stixrud (Class of ’86)