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Monday Memory: Early days and Big Bird

By Sam Wong, ISB Alumni Relations, and Nick Yates, ISB Communications

In the very early days of the International School of Beijing (ISB), before the first proper campus, ISB students attended school in a diplomatic apartment compound, with classes split between homes, hallways, and garages. Ann Holder Preston was one of the teachers at that time and wrote an article about her experience for a magazine published for ISB’s 25th anniversary.

“We arrived… in 1979, just after relations were resumed between the U.S. and China,” Ann’s article begins.

Ann herself doesn’t feature in this photo taken during that period, but her daughter, Elissa Holder, does.

“It really was quite an exciting time to be in Beijing. [U.S. comedian] Bob Hope brought a whole troupe of people to put on a show,” Ann said.

Among this group of TV stars, which set off for merrymaking in the Chinese capital amid goodwill exchanges between China and the U.S., was the beloved children’s character, Big Bird. The giant yellow canary from Sesame Street “put on a special little show for the foreign children at the Beijing Hotel. The kids got up close, touched him, and got him to sign autographs.”

The ISB campus and community have grown exponentially since the first official class in 1980. Although current students might not know who Big Bird and Bob Hope are, the two remain colorful characters attached to the school’s rich history.

ISB is proud to be celebrating its 40 years of existence. In 2020-2021, everyone is invited to join in celebrating the anniversary through a range of events. Check out  the Celebrating 40 web page for more details, and please send your photos and memories of ISB to celebrating40@isb.bj.edu.cn for your chance to be featured here and in the Celebrating 40 Exhibition.

You might even find yourself alongside Big Bird in the gallery!


Many thanks to Tauna Szymanski for identifying the following people in the photo.

Back Row (L-R): Judy McCahill (part-time teacher), Evie Sylvester (head teacher), Jane Lincoln (teacher).

Standing (L-R): Tauna Szymanski, Will McCahill, Joe Matthews, Shannon Pritchard, Peter Matthews, David Lincoln, Andrew Roy, Elissa Holder.

Seated (L-R): Wendy Pritchard, unknown girl, Tom, Pam Lincoln, David Roy.

ISB is an extraordinary school, made so by a tradition of educational excellence spanning 40 years. Establishing, nurturing, and growing such an exceptional learning community has been and remains intentional; we work hard to build strong relationships so our learning is at its best.

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