A hundred years ago, Briarcliff Manor celebrated the first graduates of Briarcliff High School: the class of 1923. A lot has changed in the past century, yet the spirit of education continues to burn strong. Leading up to the 100th commencement ceremony, I had the opportunity to discuss the vibrant past and bright future of education here in Briarcliff with Superintendent of Schools James Kaishian.
The history of education in Briarcliff dates back to 1865 when a small one-room schoolhouse was founded with the goal of teaching students literacy and basic arithmetic. The legacy of which lives on in the modern-day crest of Briarcliff High School.
It was not until 30 years later, in 1898, that the Briarcliff Manor School District was officially incorporated with the completion of a new grade school. However, in 1908, plans for another school were executed, and a new school was built beside Law Park on the land where the Atria currently stands.
Another 20 years later, a high school program was established, although a separate high school would not be added to the Law Park campus until 1928, and in 1923, the first class, consisting of fewer than 10 students, became the first high school students to graduate from what would later become Briarcliff High School.
With the aforementioned 1928 extension, Briarcliff High School officially became its own entity and would continue to educate students at its old campus until the 1960s when the school districts of Briarcliff Manor and Pleasantville put in a joint effort to purchase a plot of land on the border between Briarcliff and Pleasantville (where BHS stands today) from Pace University. However, plans fell through, and Briarcliff ended up taking on the project by itself. In 1971, Briarcliff High School’s new campus was completed.
The school was originally designed with an open-school philosophy popularized in the 1960s; essentially a school without walls, an open school is a campus in which students learn in small nooks throughout the school as opposed to traditional classrooms. Not long after the school opened, the style fell out of fashion, and the school was carved up to create traditional classrooms. In 2003, Briarcliff Middle School was joined to the High School, and the campus as it is today, for the most part, was complete.
Looking into the future, Kaishian discussed some of the goals of the upcoming renovations to the high school. He wanted the facilities to promote community and collaboration in addition to modernization. Reflecting on our past and dreaming of our future, we saw parallels between the new plans and the open-school philosophy of the 1960s and even the one-room schoolhouse of the 1860s.
Nonetheless, Briarcliff High School’s centennial commencement serves not only as a reminder of our rich history, but, more importantly, it marks the beginning of both our new lives as adults and a new era of our school’s history.
Tevin Kim is a writer for River Journal and valedictorian of Briarcliff High School’s Class of 2023.