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Thursday, 19 December 2019

Can 2019 last forever, Mama?

Salam my lovelies,

Girl and Bean both love 2019 so much they have asked me to make it last forever. Alhamdulillah for the ups (and downs that delivered many life lessons) of 2019.

My silence here is largely due to the fact that I have been devoting more time to their school lives by volunteering as a PTA Secretary. There is a fair amount of compliance work to be done as well as weekly (Friday Coffee Mornings) activities. It certainly feels very much like a full-time job. Since it is a registered association, standard of good governance applies. I cannot resist the due diligence work either, teehee!

Monthly meetings were pre-scheduled since Term 3 of last academic year so it helps to be regulated. Fortnightly working meetings are for work-in-progress matters to get things done on time correctly the first time. Then there are protem committee meetings for the big tasks such as constitution reforms and governance matters. Sometimes, I can understand why my children's previous school REFUSED to form a PTA. No doubt a long list of benefits but to expect such high level of compliance from volunteers...one has to be very lucky to have reliable volunteers who are also customers aka paying parents. I am sure things are different in a government school.

After some initial hiccups (long story!), Alhamdulillah things are in motion now. Parents from China, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Australia and Malaysia working with British Patron and Teacher in a Committee brings a whole new lease of life to the PTA.

PTA work produces both short and long tem results so if your school has one, please maximise its benefits for your children.

It has been hectic with weekly workshops that range from Pink October Breast Cancer Awareness talk by a guest speaker/general surgeon from Ramsey Ara Damansara Hospital , Eating Disorder Support Talk by the School Counsellor, Odd Socks Day and anti-bullying workshop by Datin Azrene Ahmad and Ms. Angeline Yee, Junior Entrepreneurship Program during School Open Day, up-cycling and zero-waste crafting every Friday leading up to Christmas, and to an upcoming Christmas Fair/Lunch/Assembly. We were chuffed to bits that a volunteer from GreenPeace was able to volunteer in out zero-waste workshop.

Girl set up a pom-pom accessories shop for both Junior Entrepreneurs' Bazaar during Open Day last 16 November 2019 and Christmas Fair last 19 December 2019. She crafted some of the cutest and fluffiest pom-poms for handbags, hair slides, hair ties and stress balls. All proceeds were donated to 2 shelter homes nominated by The Big School. A total of 14 families took part in November, and another 5 enlisted themselves after some persuasion in December. I pray Allah swt accepts their kind deeds and charity. Aamiin.

There was also a Christmas community choir by parents and staff in which I sang in. We sang non-worship songs, please do not worry. "Holly Jolly" by Michael Buble and "Do You Hear What I Hear?" So glad to find I am still in alto vocal range after all these years. I have relearnt my low vowels, breathing, posture, enunciation, time stamp and harmony. The last time I had sung in a choir was 1993 so please pardon my excitement.

Before taking up this PTA post, one of the class mums had asked me to be a class rep for Girl's class. I said I would have only agreed if she took up the position as my co-class rep. Luckily she agreed because we have a good population of South Koreans in Girl's class and at generally at school requiring her great assistance! Thank goodness this age group of 9-10 year old mean the children are independent which translates to less work for us. The meetings are monthly and not as intensive as PTA meetings. In fair exchange, she is serving as a Committee Member in the PTA, as a parent ambassador. Invaluable!

Exams and academic-wise, my children have had their Parent Teacher Evening reports returned with marked improvements, Alhamdulillah. They both performed at 2 consecutive Peri Soiree. Girl sang Starlight (Vocal) and Bean sang Perfect by Ed Sheeran (he played the ukelele too!). Such evenings were lovely as the School served all those who attended chocolate chip cookies with milk as apres-performances snacks. Hot coffee and tea were available to exhausted grandparents and parents too. Consistently wonderful Sodexo hospitality! The Principal personally attended to give his support (he himself is an accomplished singer, guitarist, drama, author and leader extraordinaire - may he "teach" by inspiring all his students using his skills and talents).

SENCO-wise, we have had fortnightly observations and monthly meetings with Supervisor from EAP Malaysia and SENCO from School. I cannot stress enough how important these meetings are in setting new targets to achieve and reviewing the social skills Bean have learnt. It all translates to a safe and happy kid who then learns to be successful in School and life (not just academically).

Externally, Bean's Yamaha 1:1 piano lessons are on track too and we are happy to see him enjoy making music. In fact, his performance at the concert and choir was no easy feat but he nailed it. Alhamdulillah, a good fit.

Girl has also caught up with all of her Yamaha lessons and embarked on artistic gymnastics at Sri KL with Total Gymnastics. She enjoys all her CCA options at School 4 days a week and is kept engaged at School with ample rest time at home. Alhamdulillah, another good fit. 

We feel immensely grateful when we look back and realise how far both Girl and Bean have come in 2019.

To answer the question my children asked me: "I wish I can. May Allah swt  bring us even better lives ahead in 2020 and beyond. Aamiin."

To all my readers (mostly school-hunting parents), have a great Christmas and Happy New Year 2020!


Friday, 6 September 2019

Welcome Academic Year 2019/20

Salam my lovelies,

Girl and Bean both returned to school on 3 September 2019. Girl is now in Year 5 and Bean goes to Year 2. They look so grown up in their back-to-school photo.

Girl is excited to see her classmates and welcome a new class teacher from UK. She shares a table with 3 other South Korean girls and they are getting to know one another better.

Bean is thrilled to have no shadow aide for this first week. Other than a misplaced water bottle on the first day, he has been coping independently and excellently, alhamdulillah. We have initiated fading off of his shadow aide support and, inshaAllah, he is on track so far. We hope to discuss his Individual Education Plan and SEN-pathway end of this month. We are excited to welcome new teachers who are able to apply SEN and ABA on campus.

Both have their books, supplies and uniforms sorted over the summer holidays when we paid their school fees. As they have selected their CCA before school re-opened, they just dived right in to all the fun activities from day 1. Absolutely no time to waste when it comes to fun! Alhamdulillah.

Our interim class support group for parents is up and running and we look forward to another productive term at school. It is wonderful to have a co-administrator to support us all for Hangul language in our class support group too.

All guidebooks and calendar of events were also published before the end of last academic year so we are all set, inshaAllah. Nominations of PTA serving members for current academic year is underway and the school is abuzz with preparations of hunting for suitable parents who are able to give time, skills, experience and heart. 

May this year be filled with social, emotional and academic growth for Girl and Bean. Aamiin.

p/s: Haze, go away!!
Friday, 26 July 2019

The Former School versus The Big School

Salam my lovelies,

Many have asked us to compare and/or contrast between the two. This has to be one of the hardest blog post I have to write so far as both has served/is serving us differently at different points of time.

As Helen Prior had put it so aptly, it is about the best fit.

What works for us, may not work for you. 

Please bear in mind we were enrolled from January 2015 to April 2019 (Reception to Second Term of Year 4 for Girl, and Pre-Reception to Second Term of Reception for Bean) in The Former School.

We are enrolled since April 2019 at The Big School. Girl commenced at Term Three of Year 4 and Bean commenced at Term 3 of Year 1. Both have successfully accessed and completed Year 4 and 1 respectively. They are being promoted to Year 5 and 2 this September, alhamdulillah.

Two caveats:
1. I did not write this until I have truly let The Former School stay in our past with complete acceptance and forgiveness. I waited until Deposits for both children have been fully refunded because that was the administrative marker of end of our journey there.

2. I also did not pen this until the honeymood buzz at the The Big School had fizzled out. I let the hard work and amount of dedication required sink in (waking up and smelling the coffee, so to speak).

I will highlight the strengths of each school (limited to our personal experience only) here.

The Former School:
1. Malaysian establishment with strong Malaysian flavour and influence. My children learnt Malaysian national song, "Negaraku" and school song in Bahasa Melayu at commencement of every assembly. Patriotism to Malaysia in an international school. 

2. Performing Arts, almost second to none in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Practice makes perfect. Practice takes time. Dedicated teachers in this department. Sports is a recent revival with appointment of new coach. Most trophies and medals up till present are effort of parents and students outside of school, at private clubs, at own cost.

3. Damansara Heights location and proximity to the city. This point needs no elaboration for city folks.

The Big School:
1. Compliance and Quality Assurance
Member of Council of British International Schools (COBIS).

2. Global school
Educates over 250,000 students from 151 countries and employs 20,000 education professionals, specialists and staff from over 80 countries. Obviously if a group runs 250 schools in multiple jurisdictions, the systems and protocols are well established, since 1959.

3. Teaching
Academic, Sports, Performing Arts, Art, Extra Curricular departments have been most supportive of different learning styles of Girl and Bean. Girl and Bean BOTH had to put in a lot of effort to close the gap. The children have never been happier at school so that is a huge bonus!

4. GL Assessments
Progress Test Series are the norm. Written reports are clear. We do not guess where Girl and Bean are amongst 500,000 other peers. School assessments and teacher observations are stress-free. I know my children have swam during PE, gone for morning break and sat for assessments without any fuss. The is no culture of  "mugging" and "drilling" just before exams. The gaps are for Teachers to advise us on how we can help close those gaps at home. The results are tracked year-on-year.

5. Security
Safe and happy kids are successful learners. The school has good purpose-built traffic flow, designated parking (early years/parents and visitors/teachers and staff), reverse park rule for accident-prevention and better visibility, zebra crossings clearly marked and strongly implemented, security and facility lay out. We each have our access cards, including The Grandparents (at extra cost for their additional two cards). 

6. Health and Cleanliness
Every students is covered with insurance policy at the school at premium of RM25 per student per academic year. The School Nurse is always present and promptly issues Health Notices when there is an inevitable case. Immediate steps are always taken to contain any diseases or illnesses. So far, alhamdulillah, both Girl and Bean have not been ill even once throughout Term 3. They also did not bring home the fever or flu to be passed to us either. There was 1 case of HFMD and 1 case of chicken pox but the School Nurse and Team were commendably expedient in the health and safety steps.

7. Level of Engagement
My two children are excited to go to school to learn. They look forward to every Monday when school will resume. Now they look forward to the new term in September and wish the summer holidays were shorter. 

8. Communication
Official weekly newsletters, Parent Class Representative WhatsApp Group for each class, registered PTA, Special Events Parents Volunteers WhatsApp Group, email with ticket tracking system where the Principal himself has eyes on for dedicated purposes (for e.g.: General Support/IT/Transport/Disciplinary Issues). Every Friday, Senior Leadership Team meets with parents face-to-face over coffee to discuss any issues that may arise. Special topics of interest that affect the school and local community are presented weekly.

9. Inclusiveness
The Big School accepted and supported Bean with his team of therapists and supervisors. Teachers have been present in every fortnightly review meetings. Transition meeting with new Year 2 teacher was successfully held. In that short term, the Principal has allowed EAP Malaysia to work alongside them to present inclusiveness presentation during Kindness Week, held workshops for its teaching faculty, and set-up SENCO office with a qualified person-in-charge to support Bean (and other future students who may need support). There is also a counsellor for students to be able to reach out to for counselling services for mental wellbeing. IN moving forward, clinical psychologist(s) are welcomed for observations and discussions.

10. Optimism
The growth mindset is contagious. Every improvement is possible. Every parent and child is heard. Every concern has a remedy. Bless. 

Hope this helps in your understanding and search.
All the best!



Sunday, 14 July 2019

Academic Year 2018/19

Salam my lovelies,

Both Girl and Bean have fully settled into The Big School, alhamdulillah. They have learnt and achieved so much in this short span of time. Highlights of Term 3 include Kindness Week, Book Week, Eid Assembly, Earth Ranger Awareness, International Day, Sports Day and Speech Day. It feels great to be included in the Activity Leaders group of parent volunteers. The Other Half and I (as well as The Grandparents!) have been actively participating or contributing in ways and areas we enjoy.

Here is a short summary of various events in a few sentences to capture our memories and also to give those who are school-hunting a glimpse into The Big School (beyond scheduled school tours and Open Days):

1. Book Week
Parents were invited to read to Bean's Year 1 class. I volunteered to read "Duck! Rabbit!" to Bean's class with hint of inclusion-policy and introduction to theory of mind. A few other parents read in Japanese, Korean, Malay and Mandarin. We had the most attentive audience, for sure!
The students and teachers were asked to choose a book character they each like, and come dressed as their favourite character on Book Day. Girl picked "Belle" (from "Beauty and the Beast") whilst Bean selected "Captain America" (from Marvel Comics). They were given activities related to their characters too. The event included a parade of the characters during Assembly time. Students and parents wow-ed at Principal who came dressed as a Victorian Headmaster, Head of Secondary who had picked "Cruella" from "101 Dalmatians", and Head of Primary who came dressed as "Jedi" from "Star Wars". Most memorable was Bean's Homeroom Teacher who won Best Dressed Character as "Mary Poppins". Overall a fun engagement throughout the week!

2. Eid Assembly
The ensemble showcased young, budding talents. It was not a full-blown concert we were used to seeing at The Former school. This particular Eid Assembly had a genuine element where you know the students have been stretched to their limits given the short hours in the midst of year end assessment. As a consequence, the items they presented come across as "raw" or "unplugged". Short choreography and rehearsals time on a modular stage means we will have a lot to work on in the performing arts department, hooray! One outstanding feature was the mass sing-along/karaoke of "Selamat Hari Raya". Everyone joined in cultural and language immersion for that 4 minutes. Overall a fun gig and plenty of growth opportunities going forward, inshaAllah.

3. Earth Rangers
Seed Round for plant and cash drive by the Earth Rangers at School saw 5 potted tropical plants from The Grandparents' garden being sent to School. Another generous cash contribution was made on Bean's birthday week in June to mark his 6th birthday. May Bean grow safe, happy and successful, Aamiin! The event peaked with a "Save the Malayan Tiger" mural by students, parents, and a teacher who is leaving for another school at the end of her contract this term. The garden area is now lush as new plants have arrived, purchased using cash donation from entire school. What a beautiful living legacy!

4. International Day
Girl's class worked on "Indonesia" while Bean's class represented "China". It was so wonderful to see both classes full of enthusiastic parents who brought these countries to life and presented in such organised manner. Throughout the week, each class had a parent volunteer to present a short lesson on the country (I presented Indonesia, and made a conscious effort to dispel misconception about Indonesia being limited to supply of foreign labour and Malaysia's extended plantation land!). Collectively, we put up a small class exhibition and a booth with plenty of Indonesian delicacies during food bazaar. Bean's class was transformed into Chinatown and the food bazaar table featured Shanghainese staple food and drinks. The photographs and videos all turned out amazing! Some of the other countries featured this year included Poland, USA, Australia, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Italy, India, Ukraine and The Philippines. The event ended with a parade that brought music, haka and United Nations-style march to life. Alhamdulillah for such a wonderful exposure.

5. Talent Showcase
Bean joined an ensemble and performed Baby Shark on his ukulele! We were so proud of him for participating to the best of his ability as he had only recently picked the instrument up. The Big School is full of different talents. We had artistic gymnasts, Rubik cubes geniuses, pianist extraordinaire and rock band. It was akin to watching an episode of "America's Got Talent"! 

6. Sports Day
Girl and Bean had theirs on different days, luckily so. The Other Half and I served as parent volunteers. So glad we did because the students had 8 activities and the field had been transformed to a mini Olympics! Year 6 students served as time keepers, coaches were referees and parents chipped in manpower. There were javelin, discus, 100 m dash, egg-on-spoon, potato sack race, hurdles and long jump events. The Sports Award was separately held on second last day of school and it was such a happy celebration of sportsmanship.

7. Speech Day
Academic year 2018/19 ended on 12 July 2019 with Speech Day. Bean completed his Year 1 in one term. No small feat for him and we are thankful for all the support he has been receiving since before he enrolled here. He is being promoted to Year 2 this September. Girl scored herself Growth by Learning prize for English and another for Leading Through Innovation in Music and Art. She is being promoted to Year 5 this September. Bravo to both Girl and Bean!

Our journey with Early Autism Project Malaysia is notable too. They have conducted presentations to the entire Big School during Kindness Week, trained the teaching faculty, and assisted in setting up SENCO support at School. Bean was also included in the Family Day 2019 presentation at PJ Live Arts Centre on 6th of July 2019. 58 children on the spectrum performed "The Greatest Show" successfully. Many happy tears from happy families were shed that day. Bless.

We are going to stay put for this entire summer to facilitate Bean's ABA therapy sessions of 35 hours per week. Bean also just started 1:1 Yamaha Music Course so weekly 30-minutes piano lessons are in store for him. Girl has more piano and keyboard skills to catch up on since her new Yamaha JNC Class is more driven and her new teacher delivers lessons that spiral deeper. There are also some interesting Helen O'Grady speech and drama school, gym and art class we want to explore.

Both children have also been asked to prep for next academic year by The Big School. We will be balancing all these hard work with hosting play dates, social group plays and fun outings. Work smart, play hard. Our aim is to not rob our children of their childhood. We are just glad Girl and Bean both understand an expensive summer holiday abroad this year is not affordable. 

Here is wishing you a great summer break and see you again in September, inshaAllah!


Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Settling In

Salam my lovelies,

We wish you a blessed Ramadhan. May our sins be forgiven and new Light on the Straight Path come our way during this holy month.

Alhamdulillah for all your prayers and kind wishes for our relocation. We now live within walking distance to school and have so far saved many precious hours of travelling time. Sometimes, it feels like we are living in a boarding school as quite a few neighbours here share the same ideals of living close to school too. We see part of the school community members at our common area outside of schooling hours so our children are somewhat on their best behaviour when we are at the park or pool. Running into a classmate or school teacher is almost a daily serendipity!

Alhamdulillah also for the defect liability period that The Townhouse is still covered for. We have saved thousands of ringgit in defects rectification so far. They seem like minor defects and perhaps inconvenient to arrange for the defects team to come over all the time but being the house-proud folks we are, follow-up with the management team is worth it. They have been accommodating all our requests so far, and we are thankful for their co-operation.

The Big School has been a blessing too. The Principal is new and already implementing a host of improvements and best practices for which The Other Half and I agree is worth every sen of school fees we are paying. Even the Parent Engagement Officer is on top of her work so induction and updates have been timely. It is sad to know she is going to be handing the portfolio to someone new but we are glad she will be moving to a teaching position now that her certifications are in place. She is going to be one wonderful French subject teacher!

The support network in The Big School is strong with direct involvement from Principal and Heads of both Secondary and Primary. There is also a formally registered Parent Teacher Association with 15 office bearers. Every Friday, there is a morning coffee session for any parent to speak directly to them about any issues we may face. In the last fortnight, we have discussed good digital citizenship, creation of safe and happy environment to produce great learners and general improvement to safety/traffic/parking/meal plans/next academic year. Breath of much needed fresh air in our case as these features were sorely lacking in The Former School.

The Class Parent Support WhatsApp groups in The Former School were friendlier and warmer though. The parents were vocal, closer and not suppressed in posting/sharing their views and comments. Everyone seemed more close and united. I guess in The Big School, all parents have direct communication with the school with prompt replies and actions being taken, so the Class Rep WhatsApp group is somewhat less significant. 

Girl is slowly undoing her lackadaisical attitude acquired from her previous school and pulling up her socks here. She is more academically engaged, but I must admit she is relearning her social skills with all these new people she is meeting. Digital citizenship wise, she is being trained on her boundaries and responsible self-stewardship. May she overcome her forgetfulness and tone down her feistiness.

Bean is making new friends! His personal learning assistants/shadow aides are at hand and during the one week they were on holiday, he has been self-sufficient despite misplacing his iPad Pro on the first Monday and ended the week on Friday by tripping over himself and came home with lacerations and bruises. Luckily, the School Nurse is reliable. Oh, may Allah swt grant The Other Half and I more patience and courage when his symptoms kick in on his "off days".

As we unpack more boxes and make good this new home, we pray Girl and Bean (including us parents) will grow healthily, safely and happy here.

Take good care and have a wonderful month ahead.
Saturday, 13 April 2019

Moving Day

Salam my lovelies,

Moving Day is happening soon and Alhamdulillah our new home is sort of coming together in its final few days of home improvements and defects rectification.

New paint for walls, stripped and re-lacquered timber flooring, repurposed laundry room, lights, curtains and built-ins are all starting to come together now. The short month of planning, purchasing and waiting for everything to be pieced together were hectic and exhausting but emotionally rewarding. There will be more to do soon after we move in, I am sure.

Leaks have been filled with epoxy/silicone injections by the developer so let's pray all will be well, inshaAllah.

We have KonMari-ed most of our stuff last year for the renovation and home improvement so the load is much lighter now. A few bags of toys, books and DVDs have found their way to Kind Kones and Marmalade at Bangsar Village but I just know we can live with lesser...

Books and uniform materials, all new and unused, from The Big School (now to be renamed The Former School) have been passed on to a close friend whose children are still registered. 

Both Girl and Bean chose not to have farewell parties as they feel they are still friends with their "school friends". They just happen to be friends who now go to different schools. Such a blessing, these two. They parted without drama, and made play dates with some close friends. Alhamdulillah for this ease.

We shall refer to our new school as The Big School and our new home as The Townhouse from now onwards. 

Wish us luck and ease with the relocation, including no scratches to our piano, pretty please. Oh, and good weather! Bismillah!
Sunday, 24 March 2019

Transitioning

Salam my lovelies,

We have been busy!

Transitioning is an active, fluid phase and we as a family is experiencing this process. So far, alhamdulillah, we are taking it in bite size daily although there are certain days when it can all feel overwhelming with heat/exhaustion/traffic. Good self-care skills for each and every one of us are vital!

Girl is doing double academic work, both from The Big School and The New School. There are obvious continuity and convenience despite being in two schools, as both are using British Curriculum. There are some differences in materials for Mathematics, French and Malay. We encourage her to embrace and appreciate the learning curve with our home tutoring support. We do as much as she can cope using whatever pockets of time we can carve out. So far, we have had not pushed ourselves that much so as not to burn her out.

Perhaps, the reason of my chillax mode is exhaustion. We have all been fully utilising all our available time and resources to put the new home ready in time for the relocation to be close to The New School. The Other Half supervises the work that is on-going at the new abode, while I do the paperwork (budget and finalizing quotations), research (so much to admire on Instagram and finding an affordable/available option) and purchases (driving, negotiating, loading, and sometimes pick-up of smaller items). Tick tock, the relocation date is looming close.

Girl had to follow me on some occasions after school. She loves interior design and has ambitions to be one since two years ago so she is truly enjoying this valuable process. Whilst she has her dreams up with the stars and clouds, her feet are firmly rooted (especially when it comes to choosing the most practical/affordable/child-safe materials be it curtains or kitchen backsplash). Bless her!

Bean has weekdays ABA therapy at home from 2:30 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. so I have been taking him home 3 days a week from The Big School by 1 p.m. That also means I have limited shopping time between 10 a.m. to noon. He gets into the bath tub to clean up and cool down as soon as we arrive home. He works best by timer so after 20 minutes of soak, he gets his change of clothes then eat a snack (fruits, usually) before his therapist arrives. So far, he has not missed any sessions as the team from EAP is reliable. There is always someone from the rotation pool. He has grown really fond of his Senior Supervisor, Supervisor and one of his three therapists. 

There is still some task avoidance and communication challenges but overall, we have experienced marked improvements in his quality of verbal output, eye contact, co-operation and attendance (lessons at reading class, The Big School and therapy). It is nice to be able to eat meals without the device on all the time. His meal norm is now actually engaging with members of the family (especially Sunday lunches with The Grandparents) and friends (during meals at The Big School). Reviews are fortnightly so we are constantly on the feedback-action plan-execute cycles. Alhamdulillah for this early intervention.

His EAP Team has visited and met with his teacher at The New School. There will be another visit in April before the start of Term 3 for his Personal Learning Assistants/Shadow Aides to familiarise themselves with time-table, locations of lessons and activities etc. Social stories will be prepared so as to set his expectations/predictability and reduce stress for everyone.

Girl is turning 9. I pray she gets the best in this life and the next. There are some symptoms of hormonal changes leading to emotional outbursts occasionally so we make it a point to exhibit our love and support as well as open communication. Mother: Daughter 1:1 dates are crucial, as are her Father: Daughter 1:1 school pick-up. She is a supportive sibling so we do not ever want her to feel like she is getting any less love or attention just because Bean seems to get more by virtue of the additional attention from his therapists. It is a delicate balance so wish us luck!

Till the next update, please take good care.