Racial Justice Resources

Colombian college celebrates 150 years of academic excellence

Colegio Americano is an education ministry of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia

by Dennis A. Smith, mission co-worker | Special to Presbyterian News Service

The Colegio Americano school choir sings during the anniversary celebration. (Photo courtesy of the Colegio Americano Audio-Visual Department)

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The Colegio Americano, an educational ministry of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia (IPC), celebrated its 150th anniversary this month. The school, older than the National University of Colombia, began in 1869 when Presbyterian mission worker Kate MacFerren began to teach English classes to a group of 18 girls in Bogotá.

The Colegio Americano in Bogotá now serves more than 2,100 students and is one of 11 K-through-12 schools of the same name operated by the IPC and serving more than 8,000 students throughout Colombia.

Famous enthusiasts for the Colegio Americano include Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel García Márquez. In his autobiography “Living to Tell the Tale,” the author describes how he wanted to study at the Colegio Americano in Barranquilla, on Colombia’s North coast, because of its commitment to open-mindedness and critical thinking, but his mother preferred that he study in a conservative, Roman Catholic institution.

Graduates of Colegio Americano include Dr. Orlando Fals Borda (1925-2008), one of Latin America’s most respected intellectuals and founder of the School of Sociology at the National University of Colombia.

An enthusiastic crowd of 400 alumni, staff and supporters gathered in Colegio Americano’s auditorium on May 2 to celebrate the anniversary. The following two days, leaders from all 11 schools met to share best practices and common strategies for responding to the educational needs of a country seeking to promote peace and reconciliation after decades of civil war.

As the flagship of the 11 schools, the Colegio Americano in Bogotá is recognized by the Colombian government for academic excellence. In addition to English instruction throughout their curriculum, educators there have now added classes in Portuguese. Their chaplains focus on values-based education and emotional intelligence. Through their new camp and environmental laboratory outside of Bogotá they allow students to experiment with organic gardening and understand the impact of climate change.

Chaplains Martha Muñoz and Lina Salas lead the anniversary ceremony. (Photo courtesy of the Colegio Americano Audio-Visual Department)

19th century Protestant missionaries in Latin America and the schools they established found themselves to be de facto allies of the liberal politicians who built the region’s nation states. The presence of both was bitterly opposed by conservative politicians and their powerful allies in the Roman Catholic church. Commenting on this history, Colegio Americano chaplain Rev. Martha Muñoz noted that the school has long since moved away from partisan identification with a particular ideology. Now, nourished by the Reformed tradition, they focus on inculcating in their students a spirit of community service, care for the environment, and the promotion of peace and reconciliation.

In light of this partisan past, at the anniversary celebration it was particularly striking to witness when Hilda Muñoz, principal of the school, was awarded a medal for educational excellence by the National Catholic Confederation of Education (CONACED).

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