Ridgewood School is bringing back former students from across the U.S. this weekend as it celebrates a century of educating children in Springfield and Clark County.
The school first opened its doors in 1919 in a facility at the corner of North Fountain Boulevard and Harding Road. This weekend, faculty and alumni will celebrate Ridgewood’s 100th anniversary with the dedication of a new Jane P. B. & Peter Hollenbeck Preschool at its current location at 2420 Saint Paris Pike.
The school is unusual in part because it has no religious affiliation, and has a reputation for small class sizes and a high-quality education, said Mark Robertson, an alumni who also serves as president of Ridgewood’s board of trustees. The school only provides education through the eighth grade, but it’s also often a place graduates never forget, he said. Robertson’s father and two of his siblings attended the school.
“Ridgewood laid the foundation for the rest of my life,” Robertson said.
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The school’s latest addition is a roughly 5,300 square foot wing that will house the preschool and office space. The school has also recently replaced windows and made additional upgrades throughout the building, said Aliya Ranginwala, who serves as head of the school. The new preschool was made possible with a $3 million donation by the late Jane Hollenbeck, a Springfield philanthropist and alumnus. It was one of the first major upgrades the school had seen in decades.
“If you walk into Ridgewood School, it looks like a whole new building,” Ranginwala said.
The district is known for small class sizes, typically around 16 students at most, she said. Ranginwala noted tuition is about $7,500 per year, but Ranginwala said that’s less expensive than many similar schools. Almost 60 percent of its students receive some form of financial assistance, and the school boasts an ethnically and economically diverse student population, she said.
“For a town like Springfield, it’s a hidden gem,” Ranginwala said.
The small class sizes were key to Afshan Sayed’s education. A 1983 graduate, she also sent her three children to the school because she wanted them to have the same experience she had.
“For me, the small class sizes were important because I was shy and quiet, and the teachers were amazing,” Sayed said. At 100 years old, the school is also deeply tied into Springfield’s history.
Tim Noonan, who graduated from Ridgewood in 1966, is a professional author of historical books for colleges, universities and corporations. He has been commissioned by the school board to write a book on the 100-year history of the school.
“We all had a sense of community and family that the school has built over 100 years and that’s what has kept the school open and thriving all those years,” Sayed said.
Graduates from across the U.S. are expected to return to Springfield for this week’s celebration. One of the school’s graduates is expected to return to the U.S. from Italy for the event. Sayed said she’s excited about the chance to attend a lunch event at the Springfield Country Club Saturday afternoon, where she’s expecting to meet with teachers she had in kindergarten and first grade.
The small private school has at times had a reputation in the city as an elitist school because of its smaller classes and tuition, Robertson said. But the reality was that at numerous times in its history, the school survived only because its graduates and local families stepped in to make sure bills were paid and students had the resources needed to operate.
He said he remembers the mothers of his classmates providing lunches for students in the 1960s when the kitchen for what was then the new school building wasn’t yet complete.
“It was an almost communal effort by the students and the parents,” he said of how the school operated.
In recent years, donations from people like Jane Hollenbeck and contributions from other local families have put the school on more solid financial footing, Robertson said. Enrollment has also ticked up and the school’s leaders have made financial decisions that should ensure the school continues to thrive for years to come, he said.
“I don’t think it’s ever been in a stronger financial position thanks to the efforts of a lot of folks,” Robertson said.