History of Sant Bani School
Sant Bani School opened its doors in 1973, but the seeds of the school were planted a decade prior. In 1962, Russell and Judith Perkins P’79 purchased an abandoned farm in Sanbornton and named it Sant Bani Farm. Followers of Sant Kirpal Singh’s spiritual path, the couple invited Master Kirpal to their home during his 1963 World Tour; during his visit, Master Kirpal referred to the property as Sant Bani Ashram. Master Kirpal visited Sant Bani Ashram again in 1972, at which point discussion was underway to establish a school on the grounds. Shortly after his visit, Master Kirpal approved the establishment of a school for children of local Satsangi initiates and others.
Five years prior to the school’s approval, Karen and Kent Bicknell visited the Ashram and, drawn to Master Kirpal’s spiritual path, became Satsangis. As Karen and Kent’s relationship with Russell and Judith grew, so too did the vision for a school. Russell and Judith asked Kent to be the first Principal of the school and also approached Mildred Meeh, a colleague of Judith at Horizon’s Edge School in Canterbury, to teach at the new school. Mildred provided an influential voice of guidance during the school’s formative years.
On September 10, 1973, Sant Bani Ashram School opened its doors to its first six students (pictured above). During the initial year, classes were held in the Bicknell’s living room until the first school building – what presently is part of the Upper Building – opened in 1974. Initially, the intention was for the school to run through 8th grade, but following a rapid growth it was expanded to include a high school and became a K-12 school.
In 1983, at the suggestion of Sant Ajaib Singh, Master Kirpal’s successor, the school became a separate entity from the Ashram and was renamed Sant Bani School.
Throughout the next three decades, the school experienced steady growth in enrollment, programming, and campus infrastructure. Changing demographics in the region led to the closure of the high school in 2015 and the school returned to its original vision of providing a best-in-class K-8 educational program. Little Swans Preschool opened in 2018 to add a preschool component to Sant Bani School.
Kent Bicknell remained the Head of School for 44 years until his retirement in 2017; Karen also worked at the school for several years. Since their retirements, Kent and Karen have remained involved with the school.
Pictured above: Sant Bani School in 2017
Relationship With Sant Bani Ashram
Throughout its existence, Sant Bani School has existed harmoniously with Sant Bani Ashram. For the school’s first 10 years, it was known as Sant Bani Ashram School and most students and staff were Satsangis who lived on or near the Ashram. In 1983, Sant Ajaib Singh recommended that the school and the Ashram become separate entities, to distinguish the Ashram as a place for those seeking to connect to a spiritual path and the school as a place to educate children of all backgrounds and beliefs.
Since becoming separate entities, the school and the Ashram have maintained a friendly relationship. While the percentage of students who are Satsangi has dropped as the school’s reach in the region has grown, there is a strong tradition of legacy students as SBS Satsangi alumni send their children to SBS. Many faculty remained Ashram residents, and after retiring from SBS, still live on the Ashram and have maintained interest in the school. Each July when the Ashram hosts a summer retreat, the school opens its doors to visitors throughout the weeklong event.