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!