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Close Up International School Manila Celebrates 100 Years: Recalling Its History And What's Next On The Horizon

International School Manila Celebrates 100 Years: Recalling Its History And What's Next On The Horizon

International School Manila Celebrates 100 Years: Recalling Its History And What's Next On The Horizon
By Frances Mae C Ramos
May 06, 2020
A hundred years of history are relished in a much-awaited homecoming. International School Manila is home to its alumni, wherever they might be

It was the first of a string of gatherings. The Rigodon Ballroom of the Manila Peninsula Hotel was buzzing from stem to stern by seven in the evening. Mingling wasn’t on cue. At around five in the afternoon, alumni dripped into the ballroom reception, some fresh from their flights, some hitting the ground running and instantly chatting up old classmates. Others wandered first into school merch and registration. Every movement took the quality of a campus stroll with its ease and eagerness.

This is International School Manila marking its hundred years. The organisers didn’t have to break out the trappings of a rager. The drinks and canapé spread weren’t exactly wanting of bubbly and reds; there was a decent amount to go around. This is it, pancit! was the wholesome siren call to party.

The high of the chatter instead came from giddy-sober reminiscing rather than the common party gears needing lubricating. The night was to be a brilliant come-as-you-are, and the alumni were all happy to oblige, dressed in those post-graduation years for retelling.

“I probably know everyone here,” said Victoria SyCip Herrera, daughter of the late Washington SyCip and alumna of ISM Class of ‘68. The beloved former high school guidance counsellor of ISM had served the school for 38 years before retiring in 2011. In yellow, she lit up the room, a flame drawing a circle of inspired attendees taking turns for a photo with her.

Herrera lends her name to a scholarship foundation that supports the education of Filipino youth in ISM from Grade 8 to Grade 12. The Filipino Scholarship Foundation Programme at ISM has been transforming the lives of over 150 Filipino scholars since its inception in 1961. Upon Herrera’s retirement in 2011, the Vicky SyCip Herrera Philippine Scholarship fund was born to help fund the schooling of a fifth scholar every year. “You should talk to more alumni!” she enjoined before being spirited away by other starstruck attendees. Rightly, the alumni’s presence and support for the centennial celebrations’ fundraising activities flow back into the foundation. 

Most of the alumni were ready and enthusiastic to talk about their time in the school.

A case in point: Joaquin “Jack” Rodriguez, Class of ‘59, a veteran of the food industry and now a major stakeholder in the renewable energy sector. He was working the room with the charming panache of someone who felt right at home. “I never wanted to leave the school, so they had to fail me twice!” he laughingly self-deprecated.

Pride is par for the course—isn’t this the point of affiliations? A rundown of illustrious graduates could be responsible for an alum’s surge of affection, a real incentive to book a plane ticket to attend the month-long centennial celebrations. ISM alumni tend to headline the domains of business, arts, diplomacy, medicine and healthcare, and technology.

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The present-day ISM campus in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
The present-day ISM campus in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig

The wide open, seven-hectare gleaming campus at the heart of Bonifacio Global City, inhabited since 2002, is also a monument to the school’s prestige. The competitive, renowned IB Diploma programme, the first in Asia, preserves an outstanding legacy.

These beams of pride merely scratch the surface of what it’s really like to belong. If you really plumb it down, camaraderie and shared history and experience in a netting of third culture hold them all together. The diversity of ISM today—a student population of over 100 nationalities and a multicultural faculty—is such that its largely American roots are frequently overlooked.

On this occasion, however, that piece of history seemed well-imbibed. Alumni, whether from the latter generations or the first batch, know the school background as if they have all lived through it.

“Before, the population was completely American, with a few Europeans,” Rodriguez explained. As if to demonstrate this point, he called over his good friend Peter Harken, Class of ‘55, an American School alum from Wisconsin. He runs Harken Industries, a leading global supplier of yacht equipment. He had flown in especially for the grand reunion. And his attachment to the country went way back.

“I actually grew up here,” Harken said. “I love the Philippines and have always thought it a great place to be. Mainly I was with, not my roommate, but my partner Peter Parsons, class of '55, whose father was the famous Commander in Chief Chick Parsons of the US Navy, and he was head of all the submarine forces and the guerrilla movement.”

War heroes are part of the student lineage. The beginnings of the International School are scarred by a world war and a major campus decampment when the Japanese occupied Manila in the 1940s. Around this time, the University of Santo Tomas served as an internment camp for teachers and faculty until 1945.

It was first called the American School, Inc when it broke ground in 1920 through the initiative of American and British expatriates. The first campus on Taft Avenue, an old church building, preceded a string of moves that decade. The American School would then rove the streets of the city of Manila, much like other Filipino historical institutions: first, Padre Faura street, now host to the Supreme Court of the Philippines and the Department of Justice, in 1922 and Marcelo H Del Pilar street, in 1928. It would be in Donada Street, though, that the first actual campus would take root for the next 30 years. The structure still stands as Arellano University.

The post-war generations of the American School walked the campus in Bel-Air, Makati in the 1960s, prior to the school’s renaming as the International School of Manila in the 1970s. And now, with its new campus in Bonifacio Global City, the school has gotten used to movement. It is, after all, in movement that the ISM community has come together.

Read also: The Tomorrow People: Meet The International School Manila Class Of 2019

Inside the present- day campus in Taguig.
Inside the present- day campus in Taguig.

Superintendent David Toze would know. ISM continues to anchor children and parents of expatriate families in a global environment. The cultural evolution in the school rests not so much anymore on geo- graphical displacement as it does on exchanges occurring on-campus among students and families from multiethnic backgrounds.

The superintendent himself had gone through the adjustments. He knew what it was like to move one’s family to another country and to have another go at the hum of daily life and normalcy. He had asked himself the basic questions upon moving to the Philippines: “What is the country like? Where will I live? Will I eat the same kind of food? Is it safe?” (source: ISM website)

The school’s significant population of children of expatriates intimates the necessity of a solid community responding to such question. The parents, faculty, and school board are all in it for the nurturing and safe environment they can give the students. The Parent Com- munity Association is a solid bloc of volunteers who plan events around this goal.

“We are continuously searching for adjustments and tweaks each year that will enable us to be just that bit better. Thanks to the guidance and leadership of our Board of Trustees, the school is able to continuously make developments in the campus to supplement academic and non-academic programmes,” Toze said.

The cogs turn and build momentum with new goals every year. A Learning Support Centre is in place to assist children in need of specialist attention. Sports and performing arts facilities are relentlessly maintained and upgraded. Programmes are up to speed with the school values of integrity, service, merit. And the school has shown a self-evaluation that is more expansive than the traditional fixation with student grades and other metrics of scholarly performance. A teaching kitchen is in the offing as a step towards offering cookery as an elective for middle and high school students and an International Baccalaureate option in Food Science.

“Now, in my 19th year as superintendent, I am so proud to be part of this great school. I come here every single day and, as I turn the final corner, I still get a lift in my heart upon catching sight of our campus. There is a special magic in this country felt by all of us who live here, and there is similar magic in the school,” the superintendent added.

This year, ISM heeds sustainability as a crucial part of its ethos. It fits the solidarity and conscientiousness built into the value of service. But sustainability seems its preferred way of growing, with the campus being fitted with solar panels to power activities. There’s no better demonstration of how a school wants to educate future generations but in its response to the changing times.

To learn more about how you can support the Vicky SyCip Herrera Scholarship Foundation, please contact the alumni office at


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