The story of the International School of Bergen begins with the discovery of oil off the western coast of Norway. Along with this discovery came the realization that the necessary skills and expertise would have to be imported from successful oil producing countries such as the United States.
Harold Ogaard arrived in Bergen in May 1975, only to discover that very little work had been done to establish an American school, which he desperately needed in order for his wife to accept to relocate to the area. She had very clearly stated that she would not move to Bergen if there was no American school, so Harold set out to start a school by that fall.
First of all he had to find out where the school could be located and how premises could be obtained. Luckily, the Bergen School Department had an old school house available at Brattholmen on the island of Lille Sotra.
However, the building, having been unused for several years, needed a complete make-over; paint, floor covering, double glazing, plumbing, lighting, heating and a really good clean. Harold Ogaard mustered an army of volunteers and called suppliers and oil companies to get donations of everything from fencing material to new drapes for the classrooms. Bergen Kommune also provide NOK 100 000 to cover the majority of the repair and maintenance work.
On September 17th, 1975, the “Little Red School House on the Fjords” opened with an enrolment of 17 students from Kindergarten through Grade 3. In its first three years, the population grew to 56, from Kindergarten to Grade 10, clearly showing the need and popularity of such a school. The staff also grew to five full-time teachers, three part-time teachers (including the Director), and a part-time librarian.
The school day started at 8:45 am and finished at 3:30 pm. The Kindergarten day finished at 01:00 pm. The students came mostly from the United States and the United Kingdom. From the very beginning all students were exposed to the language and the culture of Norway through a combination of direct instruction and frequent visits to the local museums and other areas of interest.
The school kept growing and in order to accommodate increasing number of students, it relocated to a disused schoolhouse, Damsgård skole, in Laksevåg in 1978. This move allowed the two sections of the school, Kindergarten through Grade 6 and the High School, to come together under one roof. Again, Bergen Kommune covered the majority of the costs of renovating the building.
All was going well, until 1980, when a major crisis occurred, calling into question the viability of an American School in Bergen: in June 1980, only 8 students were re-enrolled for the following school year. What saved the situation was that it was decided to start up a scholarship programme for children of local residents, which immediately doubled the enrollment. By September, twenty-five more oil-related students turned up to swell the numbers. The crisis was over. At this time, the curriculum was also adjusted to incorporate UK examination courses for students in Grade 9 and 10.
Three years passed, and once again the school was on the move. This time to a location on the southern side of Bergen centre – Slettebakken School in Landås. For the first time the American School would be sharing a campus with a Norwegian public school. This move was made in the summer of 1982. At Slettebakken, full use was made of the classrooms and other facilities provided, including a gymnasium, a science laboratory, a cookery room and an art room. Frequent use was also made of the local ice hall and the lake and park adjacent to the school.
In order to reflect the more varied student body and the adjustment that had been made to the curriculum to accommodate the needs of the student body, the school changed its name to the International School of Bergen in 1984. Shortly afterwards, the Bergen Playgroup was incorporated into the school
to become its Preschool department. The following year the school sought and succeeded in gaining accreditation from the European Council of International Schools and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
The school was hit by a major financial crisis in 1988 when Bergen Kommune discovered that the school had not been billed for electricity for any of its years at Slettebakken. They billed the school for just over NOK 500 000, a sum far in excess of any reserves that the school had. After a period of intense negotiations, the bill was withdrawn.
In 1991, the school adopted the International Association’s curriculum for the Middle Years as the first non-pilot school. (This curriculum was replaced by the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme.) This was done to provide a continuous programme for the students in Preschool through Grade Ten. The International Baccalaureate Diploma programme was already well-established at a local school for older students, and the adoption of the Middle Years Programme was seen as a way of providing a complete programme of international education in the Bergen area.
Another year, and another move. This time to Sandsli. After 37 years at Slettebakken, and many years of working towards finding premises adapted to the number of students and which could compete with other international schools, it finally became a reality when it was agreed that Sandslihaugen 30 would house the school. The move took place in the summer of 2019.
We now have a school which is very different in just about every way from the one which was created as a result of the tremendous and most commendable efforts of Harold Ogaard. Our student body has increased ten-fold from 17 to 180 and represents nearly forty nations, not just the United States and the United Kingdom, and their parents represent every walk of life, not just the oil industry. The school provides a programme of instruction for 3 to 16 year olds. The curriculum is international rather than American. The facilities are located at Sandsli and far larger than those at Brattholmen.
In some ways though, things have not changed. Three main characteristics have been prevalent at all stages of the school’s history: a determination to succeed, a strong community spirit and, last but not least, a pride in the endeavor. The school still serves its original mission, setting out to provide an internationally accredited education serving the business and Bergen communities. As Bergen and its region develop and evolve, we are as relevant as ever.
As the interest in international education grows in Norway through the establishment of international schools in many locations, we believe that ISB continues to have a potential that can be further explored through local students wishing to prepare for the future through international schooling in an English-speaking environment. The school has a key role to play in supporting families with expertise brought in from abroad who need an educational consistency of international standards.