THIS YEAR, or as early as last month, the biggest public elementary school in Naga celebrated its 107th foundation anniversary. Also on that period, its namesake feted its 30 full years, which marked the year that the school was split in two due to its increasing number of enrollees that it had to erect a new campus of its adjoining lot and each be known as Naga Central School 1 and Naga Central School 2, respectively. The mother grade school, or Naga Central School 1, is older than our oldest grandfather alive. It is definitely the oldest, if not one of the oldest surviving public elementary schools in Bicol since the first American teachers planted the seeds of public educational system in our region. Indeed, as historian Danilo Gerona wrote, “If Spain’s three-hundred-year rule had left its deep imprints mainly on religion and culture, the three decades of American colonial transactions introduced unprecedented changes into the various dimensions of life in Naga.” And one of them, perhaps the most significant one, was the introduction of the free public education system that henceforth, starting with the education of our young, changed the development and future of our country. On August 21, 1901, the US Army transport ship ‘Thomas’ docked at Manila Bay after a month-long voyage from San Francisco, California. As it entered the Philippine waters from east of the Pacific Ocean, the ship passed by a lighthouse off Masbate’s San Bernardino Strait, as had the older Manila-Acapulco galleons on its way from and to Manila, and took a glimpse of the majestic Bicol beaches and mountains. Its passengers, some 540 American teachers, walked down the gangplank into the annals of post-Spaniard Philippine history. A different brand of soldiers, they were armed with books, pencils, papers and slates and soon were fanned out to different provinces to build schools and teach democracy. History tells us that on their first year of arrival, the first provincial high school outside Manila was established in Tarlac and more followed in other areas, including the Visayas. It took a year later that a similar high school began to rise in Naga, then known as Nueva Caceres. Completed in July 15, 1903 with Frank L. Crone as school in charge, William Freer, the education supervisor of Ambos Camarines (before it was divided into two provinces) gladly reported that starting with a handful of young men and women, enrolment quickly increased that required them to move to larger buildings. The school was to be known as the Provincial High School in Nueva Caceres that later became the Camarines Sur High School. While in the Spanish period elite schools were only open to Spaniards and rich mestizos, or sons of wealthy brown Filipinos, in the American period education was free and open to all with the “Bicolanos show(ing) remarkable interest in going to school.” While the provincial high school was offering reading, arithmetic, geography, language and spelling, it was in 1911, or about 8 years later that the school officials thought of opening a separate grade school to prepare them more effectively for secondary education. Thus, the Naga Central School was born, whose campus was just across the provincial high school. With enthusiasm, the American governor of the province remarked that there were signs that “the inhabitants of this province (were) convinced that their regeneration depends upon education (and that they) attend school hungering for culture.” With these few footnotes on our Bicol history, allow us to congratulate both the Naga Central Schools 1 & 2 and the Camarines Sur National High School on their 107th, 30th, and 115th respective foundation anniversaries. Their pioneering alumni were to become the first builders of our city, our province, our region, and our nation. In fact, the firt Filipino auditor and finance secretary during the commonwealth period and a host of Bicolano governors, statesmen, engineers, Army officers and legislators studied and graduated there. Cheers!