MAKING THEIR MARK
A spirit of internationalism has infused Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child since it opened its doors to students in New Jersey in 1924. Its sponsoring religious community, the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, was founded in England in 1846 by American-born nun Cornelia Connelly, and went on to expand overseas, establishing schools in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Ghana and Nigeria. Today, the society operates 23 schools around the world, offering its students access to an intellectually and spiritually stimulating education with a focus on teaching the whole child at its core.
“Even back in the mid-19th century when it wasn’t typical, Cornelia Connelly’s schools took that approach,” says Head of SchoolTim Saburn,“and it is still very much part of the philosophy today.” Similarly, the international culture that Connelly cultivated continues to inform the Oak Knoll student experience, with opportunities to travel overseas on exchanges with France, Spain and the UK. Students have also been on service trips to Cuba, Quebec and Europe. These adventures prove integral to the life-learning experiences of students, many of whom go on to travel extensively before forging successful careers.
A WORLD OF OPPORTUNITY
The list of Oak Knoll alumni who have made a mark in their chosen field is extensive. One spent time in Africa with an NGO and has since been awarded for her work with women in sub-Saharan Africa. Another, having graduated from Princeton, travelled widely and went on to become the CEO of a manufacturing company, all by the age of 29. Another still served as an intelligence officer with the US Navy in the Persian Gulf. Saburn links this tendency among students to go out into the world and achieve remarkable things to the educational environment that moulds their outlook and ambitions at Oak Knoll, underpinned by the spiritual culture of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. “The international nature of the order encourages all of us – students, teachers or staff – to look outwards and feel that we are part of something larger, both in the US and around the world,” he says. “Many of these boys and girls feel inspired by their time here to go out and make a difference.”
The school is co-educational up to grade 6 (age 12) and then girls only from grades 7 to 12 (sixth form). Saburn believes that a single-sex environment in the upper grades allows female students to flourish.“They gain a confidence and a voice that they wouldn’t necessarily develop in a coed situation,” he says, adding that Oak Knoll students are notable for their outspoken intelligence and air of conviction. Emphasis is placed on encouraging students to pursue their chosen career path, with talks and visits from successful alumni that aim to encourage and inspire.
While most of the student body is Catholic, it is not a requirement for students, many of whom feel the benefit of the school’s spiritual atmosphere. “Spirituality informs the school’s culture and curriculum,” says Saburn. “It contributes to a positive attitude, strong community values and a nurturing atmosphere.” He recalls one particularly powerful demonstration of this after a student was prevented from finishing the Boston Marathon following the tragic bombing in 2013. “The day she came back to school, her classmates set up a finish line for her to cross so she could fulfil her dreams and complete the race – that’s the kind of support students offer each other at Oak Knoll.”