Quick Disclaimer: THIS POST WILL BE LONG! Had a complaint about that already with a previous post, sorry Uncle Paul! 🙂 It is also really geared for the educators in my life, but can certainly be appreciated and read by all. Read on if you dare! 🙂
As promised I am going to blog about my experience working at Singapore American School alongside our travel adventure. Let me start by saying this: I am a proud product of the public school system, having gone K-12 in them. I taught in public schools for 8 years. I am believer and supporter of public schools. SAS is a private school here in Singapore for expats of MANY countries who want their children to receive an education following the American curriculum. These blogs I am writing are not about taking sides. In my years, I have found, with very few exceptions, that ALL parents want a great education for their children. Public schools more often than not DO provide one. However, the parents with the means to do so, who choose private schools like SAS get an experience that has been at times humbling (in the sense of where I came from) and truly impressive. This blog is simply about the facilities and staff and what yearly tuitions can help provide that most public schools cannot due to lack of funds/support. So here they are: ‘Just the facts Jack, just the facts.’
It starts with the building itself. SAS is an enormous EC-12 school with over 4000 students. My 2nd grade team alone has 13 teachers! In order to fit everybody in the building, something impressively large had to be constructed. First thing you need to do is either walk or drive through the gated security (Singapore is extremely safe, but anything with the word American in it overseas does need to use some caution). Every teacher AND every student has an I.D. badge that allows them electronic access onto the premises (more on the badges later). Once you drive up to the building you will notice it stretches long in both directions from the center. Starting from left to right you have four main sections or as SAS refers to them divisions: the primary building (PS-K-2), the intermediate building (IS-3-5), middle school (MS-6-8), and the high school(HS) plus early childhood classrooms. In the center of it all is the central admin, HR and admissions offices.
Each division has its own cafeteria (with the exception of IS and MS which share, but it is arguably the best one!). I spent a lot of my teaching years avoiding cafeteria food, but that is definitely NOT the case anymore! I have found myself in the first week of orientation eating both breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria. For breakfast I have had ham and cheese omelets with fruit cups and a juice or scrambled eggs and toast. I have also heard that waffles and other tasty treats are available once school gets going. At lunch I tried a delicious chicken cashew with mixed vegetables and a drink. There is definitely a wide array of selections (included smoothie and salad bars, which will open when school starts), and I look forward to trying different things as we move forward. Now for good food like this you would think the price would reflect the higher quality right? Try S$5, which is about $4 and change in the US. The food is cheap AND tasty because when you are already paying a lot to go to a school the expectation is that your child will be fed well and the food better not cost an arm and leg on top of it! Oh and remember those ID badges I said I would get back to? They are multi-tasking magic. Not only do they allow you to get electronic admittance onto the campus, but they also have TWO separate accounts. One you use to put money on to pay for the cafeteria food (can be done online with credit or debit, or with cash at machines right on campus), the other you can use to put money on for public transportation! That’s right, Ana and I commute every day and our school badges are also our train tickets at the turn styles. Pretty nifty right??
The school has multiple theaters and auditoriums for each division too, including theaters for plays and other activities put on by its robust drama, arts and music programs. There are playgrounds for the younger children (including a rooftop one! Have not seen it yet, but sounds cool). There are also 3 swimming pools! There is a high school swim team, but even the primary school has a pool for PE because swimming and water safety is a unit of instruction for them. There is also a full size track as well as rock climbing wall and full gym facilities for both students and staff (staff only at certain times of day).
As for the library, I have not seen MS or HS yet, but I went into the shared PS/IS library and it is extraordinary. It was currently undergoing renovations, but it was enormous. With over 45,000 titles, a rapidly growing collection of e-books, and FULLY staffed, the library is something to behold as well as a well-oiled machine. In a time when the US is going through budget problems created by wall street goons and irresponsible spending and using that as an accuse to try and CUT librarians out of school budgets, this school has THREE: one teaches K-1, another 2&4, and the last 3&5. THOSE librarians have assistants who do the clerical work like shelving and keeping the library organized, which allows them time to really plan and teach library skills such as book selection, researching, and just developing a love of reading. The librarians also will write grants to the PTA organization (a strong and influential force on campus that helps fundraise and organize volunteers for events among a myriad of other great things I am sure) asking for funds to FLY in famous authors to work with the children. Rosemary Wells, a well-known children’s author, was flown in last year to WORK with the children. I make that distinction because the librarians were very specific about it. Far from just allowing the author to show up and talk AT the students, the librarians fundraise and grant write to allow for something called a ‘live in residence’. What this allows for is the honored guest to be put up in Singapore for a WEEK, and that person will not just talk with the kids, but actually go into classrooms to read stories, teach story telling, or if it’s an illustrator (or both!) they may go into the art classes and work with the students on an artistic project. It is an experience I am very much looking forward to this year as cartoonist and illustrator Mr. Harry Bliss will be descending upon SAS(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Bliss)!
Since I have kind of transitioned from building to staff with library to librarian, let me dive into what my experience in 2nd grade has/will look like this year. When I entered my room on the first day of orientation in the afternoon, I was shocked to see my room already set up! The tables and chairs were in perfect groups with neat colored bookshelves next to them and empty plastic bins for my students to create their book boxes. My classroom library was immaculately set up, leveled and had genre sections labeled. The carpet and teacher’s chair with white board were all meticulously placed and ready for instruction. Bulletin boards were already backed and bordered like blank canvasses ready to be painted on (or make behavior charts, calendars, etc. –you know the Primary teachers versions of Picasso and Matisse!). How did this happen? Never broken down from last year? The Immaculate Classroom Creation? Not quite, but maybe equally miraculous: enter the instructional assistant (IA). In my classroom (each primary teacher has their own), I have an instructional assistant. Her name is Rafeah, or Rafi for short. All the IA’s come onto campus a week or two before the classroom teachers to set up the classroom. Rafi set up what she could before I got there, but next year after working together for a year and knowing how I like the room set up, she will be able to get the classroom fully ready. She is going to be an invaluable resource this year, not only to help with classroom set up, walking students to and from specials, lunch, and recess, making copies and other tasks, but also being a wealth of knowledge about the school to help me traverse the rocky terrain of my first year at a new school.
On top of IA’s my second grade team consists of many specials and support staff. We have our mirrored public school PE, music and art teachers (although several of each because of the size of the school), but we also have many others you would not find or would have to share across a campus in most instances. The 2nd grade team has a technology integration teacher. The students will go to them once every 12 days (we are on a rather elaborate A1-C12 schedule) for explicit technology instruction. This teacher is also there to help teachers seamlessly integrate technology into the classroom as part of daily instruction and will help you plan for it. The school also has a world’s language program with an established Mandarin and a budding Spanish program. The parents choose either of the two languages and the students get DAILY instruction (more planning time for me, yay!). We have math and literacy specialists that we share with the rest of primary, as well as resource teachers that provide both pull out for strugglers and advanced academics students. Each grade level also has its own counselor who does a classroom lesson on that 12 day rotation as well to work with the students on SEL(social-emotional learning for the uninitiated that are still reading!) concepts. She is also available to work with students who may be struggling emotionally for any number of reasons (I am not the only one who left life in the states and is going through a big transition!). There is also a teacher who runs the science lab. This is also something that the students cycle through once every 12 days (and once again another planning period for me!). I am probably forgetting somebody, but it’s safe to say that SAS takes the whole “it’s takes a village” saying to heart 🙂
So those are just my earliest observations. I have not worked with students or met with parents yet. As we begin to sift through the RLA, math, and science curriculum I am comforted by just how similar it is to the public school at which I previously taught. Comforted in the familiarity for me in my transition, but also comforted in knowing that the public schools have the tools (teachers and curriculum) in place to be successful, they just need a little support and funds to back up the endless ‘the children are our future’ talk that politicians say but have no backbone to do what’s right and what’s needed. But that is a conversation for another blog at another time!
Until next time!