Mary Kassab School
Founding an entirely national school in concept, management and financing.
In 1916, when the Ottoman authorities ordered the closing of foreign schools, Mary Kassab gathered in her home sixteen boys and girls who were enrolled at the British School and pledged to ensure their continuing education. As soon as she started her modest work, parents of all walks of life began to send their children to her, and that was the nucleus of Ahliah School.
The following year, sixty students were enrolled, and Mary Kassab was authorized to open a national, non-denominational and co-educational school.
With the help of her brother Aziz and two of his friends, Boulos Khawli and Anis Makdissi, she formed a board of trustees. The board started to raise funds from Lebanese and Arab residents and Lebanese emigrants and were able to purchase the present campus of Ahliah from the Scottish mission.
Among the donors were: Some of Ahliah’s teachers; King Faysal 1 of Iraq; Doctor Bayard Dodge, President of the American University of Beirut; Ahmad Amin Bey, Prime Minister of Syria; Sheikh Taj El-Din Al Hussayni, Head of the Syrian State; Mrs Nazira Jumblat; Jibran Khalil Jibran; Amin Al-Rihani; May Ziadeh; Emir Said Al-Jazayri; Bishop Raphael Nimr; The Sacred Heart Association; The Young Muslim Association; Doctor Youssef Hitti; Bishop Boulos Khoury; Aziz Shukri & George Kassab; Doctor Fares Nimr; and many others.
Under the French Mandate in Lebanon, the activities of Ahliah were genuinely nationalistic. The school embraced the new scouting movement which included all Lebanese children. It was the first of its kind in the Arab World. Alice Abkarios at Ahliah undertook the translation of the scouting rules into Arabic.
The Mandate authorities tried to tighten their control over the school and in 1924, they ordered its closing. The students (predominantly girls) organized a rally and walked into the Government Palace to defend the cause of the school before the High Commissioner. Ultimately the French authorities yielded to pressures and repealed the decision.
AL-AHLIAH GIRLS’ COLLEGE
Flourishing an education based on self-confidence.
In 1950, Mary Kassab School became Ahliah Girls’ College. Boys were admitted at the elementary level only. During this time, Ahliah became one of the foremost educational institutions in the country. This achievement was made possible through the efforts of its Board of Trustees, which included prominent members of the intellectual, educational and social elite of the country, and through the dynamic leadership of its second principal, Mrs. Wadad Al Makdissi Cortas, who took office in 1935. Mrs. Cortas who was keen to diversify the educational programs and activities of the school, devoted much attention to culture and art in the school’s mission. She created different programs and streams for girls to follow and introduced extracurricular education through the daily assemblies (dar al Ijtima’a) during which, prominent members of the community and visitors to Lebanon, such as Kwala Nehru (Mother of Indira Gandhi), Helen Keller, Howard Bliss, Bayard Dodge, Lynn Harris, Mary Woods, in addition to a number of people from Europe that included members of parliaments, politicians, and others, addressed the students on different timely topics.
In 1939, The school hosted the Association of Amateur Musicians led by Alexis Butros to involve Ahliah students in music and later, started with him at the school, a program for performing arts that included choreographic dancing, ballet and drama. These programs became the nuclei of the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts (ALBA), founded by Alexis Butros in 1944 with Wadad Cortas being its General Executive Secretary. The Ahliah choir, now incorporated into the ALBA choir performed 99 classical concerts in Lebanon as well as in Jerusalem, Cairo and Istanbul. During this period, the school attracted students from all over the Arab world and foreign students whose parents wanted them to study in a mixed environment rather than in a uniform community school such as the American or British Community Schools then. The school students consisted of 27 nationalities in the 1960s.
Spurred by the excellent reputation of the school in Lebanon and abroad, enrollment increased dramatically. As the school needed additional space, the Ahliah campus was gradually expanded with the addition of appropriate facilities to meet the needs of the students.
Ahliah became a focal point in Lebanon and for all kinds of educational activities. Prominent researchers and scholars were invited to come and talk to the students. And when the Ford Foundation equipped the school’s science laboratories as a model, Ahliah opened its doors to other schools in Lebanon and made available to them the vast resources of its audio-visual library.
In those days the image of the Ahliah student, dressed in navy pleated blue skirt, white shirt and navy blue scarf, became well known as the prototype of the modern and enlightened young Arab girl.
The school outreached the community through the well-attended Wednesday weekly Mujaddara lunches to which prominent local and foreign panelists were invited to discuss controversial issues with the public. The proceeds went to support vocational training in the Palestinian camps and as of the 1990s, the event became annual and supports the school development and financial aid fund.
POST-CIVIL WAR IMPROVEMENTS
After the war ended, the inhabitants moved back to their original homes and the vicinity drastically changed with the rebuilding of downtown Beirut. As of 1995, the school started to restructure itself to meet the demands of the 21st century. The Board of Trustees, led by Nadim Cortas and with input from all of the school’ stakeholders started the process to develop a strategic plan to be coupled with a facility master plan. Ahliah, under the principalship of Najla Hamadeh (1999-2005), Ahliah graduate and Board Member, accomplished restructuring of the curriculum and programs. The French section was closed, a center for students with special psychological and educational needs was established, and the school buildings were rehabilitated for a capacity of 400 students.
Four prestigious engineering and architecture firms contributed in building the school’s Master Plan. The BoT amassed the necessary resources for the execution of the plan.
Master Plan Execution
As of 2009, The Board of Trustees along with the Principal, Rida Ayache (2008-current), with major input from all the school’s constituency and stakeholders, finalized the Strategic and Master Plans in alignment with the school mission and in an executable form with a clear timeline.
The strategic plan realized that the current campus could have a school for 660 students to fulfill its desired academic programs, and meet international standards for all necessary inclusions. A $5,500,000 Ahliah Renovation and New Construction (ARNC) project was launched in 2011 to upgrade the campus to become compliant with international standards for schools and enhance its architectural character. Eighty percent of the ARNC project was completed in 2015 to be completed in 2017.
In 2013, Ahliah School commenced work on obtaining accreditation from the Council of International Schools (CIS) and New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). After undergoing preliminary phases and initial visits from accrediting officers, Ahliah School became a member of CIS and received candidacy for accreditation. In 2014, Ahliah initiated a rigorous self-study process which was followed by a joint team from CIS and NEASC between April 16-22, 2016 after which Ahliah achieved full accreditation in June 2016. Ahliah is one of two schools in Lebanon that hold the dual accreditation from CIS and NEASC.
AHLIAH SCHOOL IN BEIRUT
Ahliah’s steadfastness during the catastrophe of war.
Situated in the heart of Beirut, in the midst of fighting, during the Lebanese War (1975-1991). Its buildings sustained heavy damage and the school closed during 1975-1977 and reopened, to serve the community of its immediate vicinity. The steadfast and efforts of Nicolas Zayyat who became the principal (1978-1998), with the blessing of the Board of Trustees, gave many children the opportunity to receive good education and protection during the civil war. Most of the graduates have successful careers with a good number becoming prominent in different fields.
Despite the dangers and insecurities faced, the idea of moving the school from its historic location was repeatedly rejected by Al-Ahliah’s Board of Trustees. In so doing, they were asserting the school’s belonging to the heart of Beirut as well as their faith in a better future for the country. Mr. Zayyat was keen on continuing the humanitarian and patriotic mission of the school. During the tenure of Mr. Zayyat, the school had become totally coeducational and had both English and French sections from K-12.