Centennial Mile

Published in Metro Society magazine, November 2011

From its humble beginnings in June 1911 in a small house with only nine De La Salle Christian brothers for teachers and 125 male students, DLSU now has over 15,000 co-ed students and is part of De La Salle Philippines (DLSP), a network of seventeen Lasallian institutions across the Philippines with over 100,000 student enrolled nationwide. During World War II DLSU–Manila provided shelter for wounded soldiers and civilians, and continued to hold classes despite severe damage and repeated bombings.  It was shut down in 1945, and reopened a few months later. The school closed down for a while during Martial Law, but eventually classes resumed and the school welcomed female students in 1973. It is now one of the most well-known universities in the country, and has recently been recognized as one (out of four) of the best Philippine universities in Asia by international organizations. This year marks the Centennial of De La Salle University (DLSU) and to commemorate this milestone, DLSU will be hosting a range of events and activities throughout the year, the first of which started last June.

In order to prepare for their 100th year, the DLSU Centennial Celebration Executive Committee was formed in April 2009. Dean of Student Affairs, Fritzie De Vera, was chair of the Centennial Celebration Committee. The celebration started the morning of June 16, with people coming in as early as 5 am. There was an Eucharistic Mass presided by Cardinal Rosales with Bishop Tagle giving the homily. The Vicar General from Rome was also present and gave a short message before the final blessing. After the mass, President Noynoy gave a message as well. “During the 16th there was a lot of people here – an estimate of over 20, 000 people on campus for the entire day. It was good to see so many people happy to be back and proud to be from De La Salle,” De Vera shared.

The official countdown started at 12 noon, with all the Lasallian institutions celebrating simultaneously. At the main campus there was the Green Mile, when all the students, faculty and visitors went out to Taft Avenue, standing from the South gate to the Andrew Gate while cheering and making jubilant noises. True to its “green” roots, De La Salle has been involved in a reforestation activity for the past few years, with trees planted in different areas all over the Philippines .The ceremonial planting of the 1 millionth tree occurred that afternoon, an activity shared by all the La Salle schools.

Later that afternoon, there was a pre-show where the Lasallian Centennial Dance anthem was performed, with various bands such as Sandwich, Kjwan, and Periodyko featured. The highlight of the celebration was the Centennial Concert, Isang Daang Sangangdaan, where different Lasallian performers (such as Barbie Almalbis, The Dawn, Kitchie Nadal and Gary Valenciano) took the stage. The show was directed by Ruel Santiago, with music by Louie Ocampo.

Aside from the main concert at the Yuchengco Theater, there were pocket events going on simultaneously in different areas of the campus, such as Strings and Stanzas – an acoustic concert and poetry reading event with Richard Poon, and the Animo Street Party. The celebration ended with everyone gathering at the amphitheater at around 9:30 pm to watch the fireworks, a pyro-musical and to sing the Alma Mater song.

The Centennial events and activities will continue until June of next year, with De La Salle students, alumni and supporters having a lot to look forward to. There will be an art exhibit, book launches, a Centennial sculpture competition, a series of lectures on various topics, the 5th World Union of Former La Salle Students (UMAEL), the World Universities Debate Championship, and a Tour of St. La Salle’s Relics around the various Lasallian schools, among others.

A hundred years may not seem like a long time in the course of history, but it is enough to raise up generations of achievers, leaders and performers who have helped shape our culture and country. As said in DLSU’s mission, they are committed to “train leaders, competent professionals, scholars, researchers and entrepreneurs, who will participate actively in improving the quality of life in Philippine society.” As De La Salle celebrates its past and prepares for its future, the promise of another hundred years of shaping minds is something that people can look forward to.

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Eastern Promises

Article published in Metro Society magazine, December 2007 – January 2008 issue.

It’s a Tuesday morning, and the Principal – or the President, rather, is in her office. The slender, graceful woman behind the desk is a far cry from the stern headmistress one would expect at an elite Chinese school; an international Chinese school, at that. Felicia ‘Feli’ Atienza, wife of TV personality Kim Atienza, is the President of the Chinese International School Manila (CISM) in the upscale community of McKinley Hill. She launches straight into a discussion of the school; its origins, curriculum and what makes it unique.

“I think what’s important about the school is that we try to demystify the stereotypes that people can have, or do have, about the Chinese. A lot of people say ‘Why do you call it a Chinese International School?’ ” She enumerates the most common misconceptions. “It’s strict. The math is hard. It’s full of geeks. It’s not sports-oriented.”  Then she smiles, amused. “Part of my vision when I established this school was to break those stereotypes by offering the best of everything to the students.”

CISM combines an American curriculum with a meticulous program for learning Mandarin efficiently at all levels. This unique approach also takes into consideration the Philippine cultural context, which makes it an excellent institute of learning for both local and foreign citizens. The school follows the American standard of education, and participated in last year’s ITBS (Iowa Test of Basic Skills), with admirable results.

There are five core subjects, with the first four being the standard Math, English, Social Studies, and Science. The fifth is the main Chinese language, Mandarin. “Some schools have an ESL program (English as a Second Language). We will be launching a CSL program (Chinese as a Second Language) soon.” Feli says. “A lot of people, myself included, believe that Mandarin is the language of the future, particularly in the business arena.” All the Chinese language teachers are native speakers, and one is from Taiwan. “Extra-curricular programs are also very important to us because I think that aside from nurturing the intellectual aspect of a student, we want them to touch base with the whole right side of the brain. We offer a full range of extra-curricular activities. We have a Lego Club and a Drama Club, to name a few.”

When asked if she’s always been involved in education, Feli shakes her head and reveals a different background altogether. “I was actually in Finance.” She explains. She has a B.S.E. with a dual major in Finance and Multinational Management from Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. She worked for JP Morgan Fleming for 5 years then Merrill Lynch for 5 years. Her interest in education was a direct result of motherhood. “I had my first child, a son. When he turned two, my natural instinct as a mom was to look for a suitable school. I wanted an international school, and I wanted my child to be fluent in Mandarin when he graduated. I looked around and wondered, ‘Why is there no Chinese International School?’ I couldn’t believe it when the Chinese are probably the largest minority in the Philippines. I was actually quite puzzled considering there’s a Japanese School, a British school, and even French and German schools. On one side you have a whole range of international schools, and on the other there are local Chinese schools. But I wanted an international curriculum with a Chinese element as well.” Her eldest, who is now 6 years old, is enrolled at CISM together with her other two children. They pass by, giggling and energetic, as Feli walks out of her office for a bit, into the hallway.

On the ground floor of CISM are the Pre-Kindergarten classrooms, a multi-purpose hall and music room. “We’re pretty much fully-equipped. We have a bi-level library, an arts room, an audio-visual room, a music room,  five science labs, a basketball court, a volleyball court, and six Chinese language labs, because we take our Chinese seriously here.” Feli grins. Her passion for both the school and its language program is evident.

CISM also takes its teaching very seriously. The school had a two-day Teacher Training Workshop last August for the faculty. This was followed by a one-day in-service seminar in September, October, and November.  All workshops were handled by former ISM teachers with a minimum of 35 years teaching experience, from the SAGER Learning Institute. “We’re very proud of our faculty. Our teachers all come from international schools.” She boasts.

It’s wonderful to meet a woman whose origin in education is inextricable tied with her being a mother. After all, children will be in school almost everyday for the greater part of their formative years. Where better to place them, than in the hands of someone who is a parent herself? Feli also understood the importance of excellence, in whatever field. “I knew I had to have the best educators by my side when I started.” So she searched long and hard for someone who not only had outstanding credentials, but also shared her dream of teaching students Mandarin. “I was fortunate to meet Lulu, the sister of a good friend.” She introduces her partner, Maria Luisa Que Sian.

Maria Luisa, or Lulu for short, is CISM’s Superintendent. Her qualifications are exceptional, with an Ed.M. in Administration, Planning and Social Policy from Harvard University, an Elementary Teaching Certification from the US, and 15 years of teaching experience in various international schools here and abroad. Lulu had been working in Brent for about 9 years when Feli approached her with plans for the Chinese International School. From the start, she sensed it was an excellent plan. “Once I said yes, I knew it was a commitment.” Lulu explains. She helped create the distinctive academic program, and chose which textbooks from abroad were most suited to the elite academic standards and particular approach of CISM.

“Our goal is to make learning really more experiential. The knowledge becomes a part of the students. By the time they get tested for a certain skill, they don’t even have to study for a test, because they already know how to do it. It’s not about memorizing; it’s about understanding and experiencing the topic. That’s really what learning is about.” Lulu states. She is also a mother, and her children study in CISM as well, one in Grade 5 and the other in Grade 7. “Learning has to be fun. That’s one of the things we try to do; we combine academic excellence with making learning fun for the kids.” She adds.

CISM was three years in the making, and it continues to expand steadily. “Right now we have Pre-kindergarten to Grade 8. Next year we roll out Grade 9.” Feli shares. At full capacity, the school has ample room for 600 students. They expect to reach that figure in about 6 years. “We’ll be working on pre-University – some people also call it college level – courses, such as the IB (International Baccalaureate).” CISM is the first of its kind in the country, and seems to be well on its way to achieving its vision of becoming one of the leading international schools in the world, with its high academic standards, and effective integration of tradition and innovation for the next generation of learners.