While driving from the Doon valley towards Mussoorie, there is a diversion, just seven kilometres before the popular hill station, which takes one to a small sylvan world called Jharipani. There is little else to this place other than a unique heritage institution named Oak Grove School, the only Railway School of its kind in the entire country.
When a visitor goes to Jharipani, he can well conclude that Jharipani is actually mainly about Oak Grove School. It was in June 1888 that Oak Grove School began functioning. It has been a glorious 131 years of existence for this institution.A few village homes can be seen in Jharipani besides a couple of shops, a State Bank of India branch for the school and the Jharipani Post Office just outside the school’s entrance gate. Only two kilometers from Jharipani, upwards, is Barlowganj, another idyllic place, now home to the Jaypee Residency Manor. Jharipani has a waterfall (Jharipani Falls) and also nearby is the Mossy Fall amid a dense forest.
A meandering path takes one up the hill, after entering the portals of the school. It is indeed a special place as all the three wings of the school are located on separate hills. The three wings are the Girls’ School, the Junior School and the Boys’ School. The Junior School (Class III to V) is coeducational while the senior children have separate schools, meeting only for some classes in Class XI and XII for certain subjects. Each wing has a different head. The school is headed by a principal who is an officer of the Indian Railways Personnel Service.
The first Railway hill school was started in 1870s by Sindh Punjab and Delhi Railway, later known as North Western Railway, at a bungalow called Fairlawn close to where Oak Grove is presently situated. It was part of the 'Rajah's Palace' which belonged to the Royal family of Nepal.Oak Grove School was started in 1888 by East India Railway Company with an endowment fund of Rs two lakh on the recommendations of the School Committee.The school started functioning from June 1, 1888. The Fairlawn school was merged with Oak Grove in 1894 as it was facing shortage of staff and accommodation. That makes Oak Grove the earliest boarding school set up by the Railways. It is also the oldest surviving school of its kind in the sub-continent.
The first school building, the present boys school, was designed by R Roskell Bayne, the company's chief architect, and built under the supervision of W Drysdale the company's engineer. The impressive buildings are extremely picturesque. Stone walls, wooden trusses, sloping roofs, large verandahs and imposing pillars in the Gothic style give Oak Grove a comfortable old world feel that welcomes visitors warmly.
The Ministry of Railways of the Government of India and also the Northern Railway administration, place great emphasis on the preservation of Oak Grove SchooWhile times have changed and the school has grown; it still maintains its charm, high standards of education, authenticity in architecture and a dream campus dotted by oaks, pines and several other towering trees.
The school, with its great heritage value, is a symbol of several things-of elegance, stability, history, welfare initiatives and a value-based education.Only twenty per cent of the school’s children are from non-railway families. All the students come to the school after clearing an All-India test for Class III.
A deep sense of history and tradition is palpable all around the campus, spread over 256 acres of undulating land.
The earliest recorded history of the school mentions the arrival of Matron and Sergeant Mrs and Mr Green on May 9, 1988 as the first officials of the school followed by head teachers AC Chapman and his wife on May 19, who steered the school through its initial years and set it on the path of stable growth over the period of 24 years which they spent here.
It is a heritage school with a blend of three great things-Railways, hills and public school culture. No distractions for the students- just a monthly outing to either Dehradun or Mussoorie. It is a simple and secure world ideal for schooling. It is great for teachers and a wondrous experience for a visitor.