The excitement is palpable within the halls and classrooms of Bensalem High School. Banners are hung and special events are set, all to commemorate its 100th anniversary.
“It’s a really big thing for this community, for Bensalem,” said Principal Frank Flanagan. “Bensalem is one township, one school, one team. It’s a big deal with us being so closely unified, and it really makes us different in that, unlike a lot of other school districts in Bucks County, we’re only one township that the school serves.”
Festivities surrounding the anniversary began last Saturday with a festival and open house at the school. Alumni were invited back, building tours were offered, student groups performed and held sales, and Mayor Joe DiGirolamo and other elected officials stopped by to say a few words.
This, said Flanagan, was only the beginning of this year’s celebrations.
In addition to special events like the open house and a formal dinner planned for the first Saturday in March, the anniversary is being included in the usual annual traditions, such as homecoming (Oct. 13), the June golf outing, commencement, choral concerts and the creation of the yearbook.
“A lot of people are weaving it into what they normally do,” said Jess Ody, a journalism teacher and BHS alum of ‘03. “It’s a whole part of our culture this year.”
For Ody, as well as Ron Morris, a business and technology teacher who graduated in ‘97, it’s a thrill to see their alma mater reach such an important milestone.
In some ways, things at BHS look very different from when they walked the halls. There’s new technology, new elective courses and new additions to the school, such as the gym that opened about 10 years ago. But in other ways, not much has changed at all.
“Something that really hasn’t changed from 20 years ago when I walked the halls here is that, as a student, you still get out what you put in. Our students, when they take full advantage of what we offer here, they have a great experience,” said Ody. “I can say the same thing for me 20 years ago when I was here. The physical building doesn’t change that.”
“We’ve always been a diverse community, and that’s one thing that I really liked about it,” said Morris. “Going through as a student, then when I came back as a teacher, the community continues to grow.”
The history of BHS all started in July 1923, when Samuel K. Faust was tasked with opening the first high school in Bensalem. Previously, high schoolers learned in a four-room building that also housed two elementary groups, with the first graduating class — the Class of 1925 — comprised of five students. Many other teens were sent to high schools in neighboring towns, such as Bristol, Langhorne, Jenkintown and Frankford.
Faust got the public school built on Bristol Pike (where School Lane Charter is now located) and served as the first Superintendent of Schools until his death in 1940. As Bensalem grew, becoming less of a farming town and more of a suburb, the school grew with it. In 1954, it was re-established at a new building, located at 2201 Street Road.
Then, in September 1969, it opened its doors to its current home, 4319 Hulmeville Road. Here, enhancements — including a major renovation of the school in 2018 — have been made over the years to keep the building fresh for the next generation of young learners.
BHS has come a long way from its original five graduates, with the Class of 2024 totaling 556 students. From the first day of school, this class knew it was making history as the 100th to complete a BHS education.
With this honor comes much excitement, especially since these teens had quite the unorthodox high school experience due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After some tough years, they can wrap up their tenure on a positive note.
“It’s really cool to see how excited the students are about it,” said Ody. “And I am, as well. My family has been in the school since the late 1940s, so this particular milestone means a lot.”
For Morris, it’s a particularly momentous occasion, as his own children are part of the 100th graduating class of BHS.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “I’m a community member, as well as a teacher. To see the longevity of this high school reach this milestone is quite an accomplishment. To be part of it and live through it is just an honor.”
Of course, it’s impossible to know what the future holds for BHS over the next 100 years. However, Flanagan, Morris and Ody have a vision of what they hope it looks like.
“Our goal is to make this building and this high school an amazing place that can exist without us and still be amazing for the next 100 years,” said Flanagan. “We’re in such a special place that I can only imagine the potential of what can be unpacked. It’s going to be amazing to see what this place is and what this place looks like in 100 years. But the traditions will carry on, the passion and support will be there because that’s what this community is about.”
“We hope we’re building tradition that will last way beyond our years here,” said Morris.
Ody added, “We’re the best in Bucks!”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com