Alumni and long-time teachers at RIS recall the closeness of
Story by WEENA NOPPAKUNTHONG
Yet, the wonderful thing about a teaching career is how students can return to their beloved teachers and find stability amidst this fast and changing world. Their teachers naturally become the tangible parts of their almost faded primary and secondary school memories.
No place like home
Except for the strands of gray hair and the inevitable wrinkles in their faces, the alumni of Ruamrudee International School (RIS) from as far back as the class of 1967, seem overjoyed to say to their teachers, who attended the event on August 11 to celebrate the school's fiftieth anniversary, that their teachers were still the same after all those years.
Gathering at the school's first campus in Soi Ruamrudee behind a Catholic church in downtown Bangkok, there is a sense of melancholy among long-time teachers and alumni upon knowing that the decades-old buildings, which represented many years of their lives, will soon be demolished and replaced by new buildings.
They took their last tour around the small campus with buildings surrounding a courtyard, where the morning assemblies were held and where everybody's faces were familiar to one another.
An RIS alumnus, Charles Henn, Phd, who is currently a consulting professor and founding director of master's degree program in global affairs at the University of Buckingham in the United Kingdom, says what makes the school so special is how it is designed around a courtyard, enabling him to still see his former classrooms and not lose touch with his former teachers as he progressed from elementary to high school.
``This created a special atmosphere at school that we were one, big family,'' says Charles.
For many former students and teachers, this campus was their 'home', as they casually exchanged their old memories, including the crush on their first sweetheart or their first day at school.
A former teacher, Celine Michaels, who taught at RIS for 49 years, was among the first four teachers who taught at the school in 1958. She recalls the family atmosphere at the school and her first impression of the students, ``I fell in love with all of them and since then, I never thought of changing my career again,'' she says.
The somber mood is reinforced with old photographs in the slide presentation, which was accompanied by the song sung by the alumni's former teachers, ``The Way We Were'', which reminds everyone of the school's simple past and the laughter they choose to remember.
When it first opened in 1957, the school offered four classes to less than 60 students who were largely children of the expatriate parishioners. The school was later granted its international school status in 1963 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
It was among only two other pioneering international schools in the country at the time, where international school education was initially reserved for expatriate children on temporary visits to Thailand.
Special permission to attend were given to children of Thai Foreign Ministry officials, who required an English language education because their families would frequently transfer to work overseas, explains Rev Leo Travis, campus chaplain and director of school development.
Because of increasing student enrollment and the necessity to provide students with more playground space and sports area, the school moved to its current location in the Minburi district in 1992, while keeping its original name.
With its background as a school that promotes bonding between teachers and students, much like a family, school director Rev Wirach Amonpattana says the school also aims to produce students who are caring citizens.
Through exposure to various community services and the prevalent student involvement in charities, blood drives and visits to underprivileged or abandoned people, the school hopes to instill a sense of caring in every student.
Rev Travis says he hopes that the alumni will not forget the lessons taught in their values classes to be caring and responsible persons, and that truth and justice should always be their guiding light in life.
Isra Sunthornvut, currently advisor to the Bangkok governor on foreign affairs and also a member of the Democrat Party, was among the class of 1988 graduates at the event who admits that he misses the spirit of the school.
Likewise, Charles dwelt on the same feelings, saying what makes a school great are not bricks and mortar, desks and chairs, or computers and gyms, but the spirit of the teachers and administrators.
What made the teachers so special was how they were not just teachers by vocation, but dedicated educators who loved teaching and their students.
Another alumnus, Pachongsak Padamasankh, from the class of 1991, expresses his gratitude for what RIS has given him. He says that his former teachers would talk about finding the right person to do the right job, which he was able to apply in his full time work as a legal counsel for PTT Plc.
When dealing with management, for example, Pachongsak knows that he does not necessarily have to communicate with them directly, only find the right person who can persuade the management to adopt his vision and position on the issues.
Expanding, but preserving the essentials
Compared to its humble beginnings, the school today enjoys a vibrant and cross-cultural atmosphere, with nearly 1,700 students enrolled.
Rev Travis can still recall the closeness of students and staff in the small original campus; there was a real family spirit there. "As we expand, my worries are that we might get too impersonal and not have the opportunity to follow up how students feel and the problems they might have,'' he says.
His statement perhaps serves not only as a reminder for students and teachers at the school to live the family spirit that was once so vibrant at the old campus, but also as a reminder for anyone who might have forgotten their own simple beginnings.
For more information on RIS' upcoming fiftieth anniversary activities, visit the school's website at www.rism.ac.th .
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Last modified: August 17, 2007