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Our History

One of the most storied international schools in the United States.

We are San Francisco's oldest and largest bilingual school. We were the first school in the city to offer the International Baccalaureate, and the fourth school in the United States to do so. Around the world, we are known as innovators and leaders in education.

Our School Historian Dan Harder once said that a remarkable aspect of French American + International is our ability to balance change and stability. Over the course of our history, our school has changed its name three times, changed its location twelve times, and grown at times exponentially. Yet, all along our school has remained dedicated to the same guiding principles.

In 1962, a bold group of visionaries believed that a bilingual education in French could imbue students with an international perspective and skill set that would make them compassionate, confident, and principled individuals who would make a difference in the world. We still believe that today.

On Valentine's Day in 1962, nine visionary founders of San Francisco's first independent bilingual school gathered in Mr. Richard Ham's office at the appropriately named International Building on California Street to map out how they were going to make this new school happen

Pictured from left to right: founding member of the Board, Murray Richards; Head of the Board and unflagging supporter of the School, Richard Ham; founder and first Directress, Mrs. Germaine Thompson; and Cultural attaché M. Scian.

On the 16th of September in 1963, Mlle Rouger, Headmistress and French teacher, opened the doors at 24 Homewood Terrace to a two-room school for a mixed lot of 23 "lower" kindergarten, "higher" kindergarten, and first grade students.

French-American Bilingual School (commonly known as FABS) wasn't just any school. First, it was to be a bilingual school in a staunchly monolingual United States. Furthermore, the French and English instruction was not to be equally divided. In an educational outpost five thousand miles from France, students would receive 80% of their instruction in French - not English. And to top it off, the majority of the student body was expected to be non-French. It was a daring moment.

Pictured: Mlle Rouger at her favorite activity - teaching at the Homewood Terrace Campus.

The Homewood Terrance complex, our school's first habitable address, at number 24.

In the words of a fundraising brochure published by our school in 1968: 

"The French-American Bilingual School was founded in 1963 by a group of San Francisco Bay Area residents with close ties to France. They believed that bilingual instruction, by attuning students to the best of two different cultures, enriches their lives and makes them sensitive to the values of different cultures. In addition, the founders believed that the active knowledge of a second culture stimulates all aspects of a child's learning and enhances his understanding of his own culture."

Pictured: Class photo, 1965, with English teacher Mrs. Clemens (left) and French teacher and Head of School, Mlle Rouger (right).

Our school grew rapidly as word of the dynamic educational hybrid spread. We moved to a larger campus on Vincente Street in 1965, and expanded on Grove Street in 1967.

Pictured: The play yard at Grove Street circa 1970.

 

In 1971, the first FABS students were ready to enter 9th grade. Our school collaborated with the Vauve Institute to offer the French Baccalaureate to students by way of correspondence. 

In 1978, the formal high school was established, and adopted the International Baccalaureate. FABS was to be a bilingual, multicultural school right from the start - and the International Bac is intrinsically multicultural.

 

In 1978, FABS moved again into a new building at 220 Buchanan. Enrollment reached 337 students, including our first class of 11th graders. This location had an important addition for our school: a gymnasium, something the school had never had before. 

Two years later in 1980, we celebrated our first high school graduation ceremony. The Class of 1980 had only six students, but an impressive group it was; each student was fully bilingual and most had attended FABS since Pre-Kindergarten. 

Pictured: The first graduating senior class - 6 students and French teacher (left front) Sina Ivaldi.

 

In the early 1980s, our school began implementing a high school program for non-bilingual students entering in the 9th grade. In order to reflect these changes, the Board effected a change in the name of our school from FABS to French American International School in 1984. Although as solidly French and American as it ever was, the French American International School gaze outward became a bit more global. 

The first exchange program took place in 1986-87—an 8th grade exchange with Lycée Molière in Paris that launched a program between the two schools, and still continues to this day. 

The idea of crossing borders and learning about other cultures expanded from the original exchange programs. An interest in international experiences has become a core aspect of an education at our school, as more global trips were offered each year.

Pictured: Learning to dance during the 10th grade trip to Tahiti. 

By the early 1990's, more than 500 students were enrolled with close to 100 faculty and staff members. French American had become a very large, complex institution, and our school sought again to expand to a new location. In the spring of 1994, French American, in partnership with Chinese American International School, successfully bid on the former Caltrans building at 150 Oak Street. In 1997, the doors to the new "schoolhouse" opened and 679 students, 90 faculty, and 32 staff moved in.

Pictured: Joined by students, Head of School Jane Camblin (holding white hardhat) visits the 150 Oak Street campus in one of the early days of its renovation. 

As an increasing number of students, who had never taken French, were interested in coming to French American in high school, it became obvious that our school had to adjust the name of the high school to the changed reality of our student body. As of 1995 the French American high school became International High School. 

In the 21st century, French American + International continued to expand. 

In 2008, the Dennis Gallagher Arts Pavilion at 66 Page Street, a world-class residence for our arts programs, was established. The Arts Pavilion features inspired classrooms for visual art, theater, and music; recording studios; media labs; and a black box theater.

In November of 2013, construction began on the new early childhood center, our Maternelle, a purpose-built space for the school's youngest students in Pre-Kindergarten 3 - Kindergarten. The space vacated by our PK students was transformed into a hub of modern learning, complete with a science lab, innovative classrooms, and spaces to encourage collaboration.

In 2014, the doors opened at the Maternelle at 1155 Page Street, while the main campus at 150 Oak Street introduced a number of enhancements to its facilities, including a new hands-on design lab.