By Nick Yates, ISB Communications
What a busy academic year it’s been at the International School of Beijing (ISB), full of innovation and success in the classroom, on stage, and on sports fields. ISB is an international community, not just a school. There have been many initiatives fostering togetherness among students, parents, and teachers.
Together, we have set high expectations and further strengthened our relationships, ensuring that ISB students have the freedom to explore in their learning. Our graduates have begun to find their place in the world. We have all benefited as the school has pursued programs proven to be most effective for young people’s well-being and academic learning.
Building relationships for the best learning
ISB is committed to fostering a community that extends beyond the classroom to include students, teachers, families, and the many individuals and groups with ties to the school. This is done in the belief that togetherness and strong relationships provide for the best learning.
Relationships between the school and home have never been more important. With that in mind, ISB has developed its Parent Education program to keep parents informed about the direction of the school. Topics addressed have included the most effective ways of teaching math, improved mental health through mindfulness, language proficiency, the science behind how the brain learns, and design education at ISB. Counselors ensured a healthy online community around ISB with April’s Media Mentor Month, when they encouraged conversations between parents and their children on safe, responsible media use.
In the High School, the Student Life Coordinator role was created this year to help foster a sense of community and strengthen student relationships and their social-emotional well-being. The move supports ISB’s Whole Child approach, which values young learners’ social and emotional health, which research shows also leads to greater academic learning.
The school believes that successful students are not defined solely by their attainment in their academic classes, nor college admissions (both of which are hugely important); it is their character, degree of empathy, willingness to collaborate and serve others which more fully defines them and will sustain them through adulthood. Research published by respected specialists in 2014 concluded, “The most powerful childhood predictor of adult life-satisfaction is the child’s emotional health... the least powerful predictor is the child’s intellectual development.” With that knowledge to hand, it would be negligent of the school not to fully nurture the social and emotional needs of each child.
Being free to explore their passions and serving others are concepts which are dear at the school. ISB has many service clubs and after-school activities for students, and also partners with external organizations to offer diverse opportunities to excel and develop character away from the classroom. This year’s winner of the EARCOS Global Citizenship Award is a student who has been a leader in ISB groups like the Student Wellness Council, and has also taken up opportunities with partner organizations including the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, and the Operation Wallacea series of scientific research expeditions.
The PTA of course plays a big part in fostering community, uniting parents and acting as outreach to people not directly involved with the school. The association once again organized big events including International Day, a Chinese New Year gala, and the ISB Spring Fair.
New facilities rising from the ground
Such has been the progress in the building work it’s hard to believe it was only in August that ISB’s construction team held a ground-breaking ceremony for exciting new facilities set to further improve the campus. Strengthening ISB in both academics and co-curricular activities, the project under construction includes a new Elementary School Arts Center and Theater, and a new Performing Arts Center for the Middle School (MS) and High School (HS), plus remodels of the Early Years Learning Center, and the MS/HS Design Center.
The campus improvements were the result of a consultation over several years that ensured full community engagement. While they’ve been a long time in the works, we’re almost at the point where the hard work will come to fruition – the innovative buildings are due to open in 2019 and 2020.
ISB a pioneer of sustainability in international schools
ISB has made the bold decision to create a long-term plan for sustainability at the school. It’s a process that many big educational institutions such as Harvard have undertaken, but which is far rarer in schools. Since the start of the year, ISB has had a dedicated member of staff leading a review of the school’s environmental impact.
While the sustainability expert has helped guide a range of stakeholders in the review, students have been the driving force for changes that are making life at ISB much more green. Members of the Net Impact service learning club successfully campaigned for electric vehicles to be introduced to ISB’s bus fleet, and eco-warriors from grade 2 upwards helped design new recycling bins that have just been installed around campus to improve how the ISB community manages its waste.
China ties in an international school
ISB may be an international school, but its ties to Beijing and China are strong. ISB’s Chinese language program is recognized as one of the region’s best in international schools, with its approach to teaching widely copied by counterparts in the Asia Pacific. Chinese cultural events at the school include New Year celebrations, poetry recitals and calligraphy, and appearances by prominent local figures.
The Chinese Language and Culture Center (CLCC) was established in 2018-2019 to consolidate these strengths by offering a variety of specialized programs to enrich students’ and expatriates’ lives in China, promote intercultural understanding, and develop local educational partnerships. It has helped coordinate a number of major initiatives.
Legendary film director Zhang Yimou (whose films include Raise the Red Lantern, and Hero) held two dialogues with students in February, on his latest visit to ISB. Celebrated TV host and fashion publisher Hung Huang gave a community talk on campus in May.
In March, ISB supported the wider learning community by hosting the 18th Chinese Articulation Workshop and Conference. The event was attended by educators from around the Asia Pacific, all hungry to discuss approaches to teaching and to observe ISB’s Chinese classes in action. ISB inaugurated the Chinese Articulation Workshop in 2001. It was hosted by different schools during the next 17 years, attracting thousands of participants cumulatively in the region.
At ISB, knowledge and skills are considered vital, but teachers know that at least as important as those knowledge and skills are character development and a commitment to serving others. ISB students volunteer and raise money for numerous charities, and the school appointed a dedicated Service and Experiential Learning Coordinator at the start of this year to oversee and enhance these efforts.
The potential she had to play with was evident from August’s High School Clubs and Service Fair, when dozens of student-led groups hosted stalls to recruit new members. Clubs ranged from those focused on environmental issues like Greenkeepers, to Mental Health Matters, to housebuilding volunteer group Habitat for Humanity. Members of the ISB branch of global charity Roots & Shoots go on weekly visits to a local animal shelter, and to the Love & Hope Center, a vocational school for underprivileged teenagers, as well as supporting these non-profit organizations through fundraisers.
Service has been integrated into the High School curriculum through a course featuring regular trips to a Cambodian village where students work with locals on needs assessment. The Action Research course engages students in cross-curricular conversations on real-world issues. After a two-year pilot in grade 10, Action Research will also be offered to grade 9 students next year.
The Middle School’s annual Smile Week raising money for local children in need of cleft palate surgery this year added a variety concert to badge sales, a ticketed function for students, and an auction of photos taken by staff, students, and community members. The week’s events organized by the Middle School Student Council (MS STUCO) raised over 100,000 RMB, so far providing successful surgeries for four youngsters.
The Elementary School got involved in service too. For ISB’s new recycling system (see subheading ISB a pioneer of sustainability in international schools), grade 2 students conducted waste audits and generated ideas to reduce waste as part of their Reduce, Reuse, Recycle classroom unit. These students also tested recycling bin designs to help assess how effective the various alternatives were, and they are now the front-line for educating the rest of the Elementary School on how to use the new recycling system.
Increasing awareness of big global issues, the Elementary School also had its first group of grade 4 students participate in a Model United Nations event in 2018-2019.
Learning adventures and academic excellence
ISB is committed to the most effective learning for students. 2018-2019 showed that learning can be both joyful through giving students freedom to explore their passions and satisfying through challenging them to achieve.
At the start of the year, ISB’s senior students once again achieved excellent results in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme, with an average score of 35 – five points higher than the global average. Demonstrating consistent excellence, ISB students’ average score has now been five to seven points above the global average for 10 years.
ISB prides itself on ensuring its students find the college and course that is most appropriate for them based on their passions and talents. University acceptances for the class of 2018 included Brown University, Columbia University, Princeton University, Durham University, Imperial College London, University of Warwick, Tsinghua University, University of Hong Kong, and Les Roches.
Success in exams is the culmination of many students’ studies at ISB, but these follow important learning adventures through the school year. For High School students, the first week of September was full of transformative experiences as they traveled locally, around China, and internationally for a choice of Experiential Learning Opportunities (ELOs).
The term “school trip” can too often conjure images of boring outings to museums, but ISB’s annual ELOs are far removed from this stereotype. Through partnerships with expert guides and organizations in the trips’ destinations, the ELOs encourage active engagement in experiences that promote personal growth. Learning on the trip is supported by a sequenced framework that draws upon and enhances ISB’s academics, co-curricular activities, and student life.
Students got to pick from a range of ELOs as varied as an investigation into the problem of human trafficking in Vietnam, a sailing course, cooking classes, explorations of less-traveled parts of China, and an historical tour of old Beijing.
Middle School students were challenged to learn new skills in January for the fourth annual One Day – a single day when they work on a project of their choice. Students spend about a month leading up to One Day preparing for their project, choosing what they want to create and ensuring they have the materials they need to execute it.
The day itself bustled with excitement and brimmed with creativity as the students engaged in their chosen project. Classrooms were turned into science labs; organized chaos ensued. And it continued into the next day, when an exhibition turned the Middle School into a museum for students, parents, and community members to see the culmination of the work.
With ISB faculty restless in keeping up with the latest research and undergoing training to make their teaching even better, the school has continued to revise its course offerings. Since ISB has its own curriculum, it has the flexibility to adapt and change its programs to best meet the needs of students. In the Middle School and High School, students were offered a wide range of elective courses to sign up to for 2019-2020. These innovative courses are based on offering interdisciplinary learning merging traditional disciplines, as in the real world, and on providing plenty of pathways for individuals to choose how they learn.
Meanwhile, the Middle School took the decision this year to introduce a new mathematics curriculum in 2019-2020. In line with math programs in the Elementary School and High School, the new curriculum will ensure the content and skills pertinent to the different branches of math are combined to make for truly meaningful learning.
Celebrating and sharing the arts
At ISB, life is about far more than academics, and an appreciation of the arts is recognized as an important part of making students well-rounded individuals – perhaps most importantly in the Elementary School (ES). The division was awash with color for one day in April for the 14th annual CASTA (Celebrate and Share the Arts) festival. Parents came to campus to catch shows from ES performing arts classes, and each student chose their favorite work of art to display as the ES was transformed into a giant gallery for the whole school to enjoy.
In May, grade 3 to 5 students showed off their acting, singing, and musical skills in front of a huge audience in the theater as they performed a Red Riding Hood adaptation packed with tongue twisters and retro pop. It may have looked like a ton of fun for the more than 120 student involved in the show, but behind the scenes was a lot of serious learning as teachers with decades of theatrical experience directed the highly inclusive proceedings.
The Middle School co-curricular production was more selective, as auditions whittled down the actors to a cast of around 40. Those who didn’t make it to participate in Ugly Duckling adaptation Honk! could develop their skills during curricular drama classes and come back to try again in auditions next year – stronger for the experience, according to lead teacher Hannah Northcott. “Auditioning develops resilience in students, as we teach how to take possible disappointments and turn them into winning moments,” she said.
High School is even more about striving for excellence, as those with a passion for the arts are given opportunities to really push themselves. As well as the High School production and One Act Festival of student-directed short plays, 2018-2019 saw ISB’s older arts students take part in prestigious events and competitions outside the school. Grade 12’s Siqi C won the Association of Music in International Schools (AMIS) Young Composers’ Competition.
The APAC Orchestra Festival was co-hosted by ISB in November, giving Beijing students the chance to play together with the cream of the crop from their peers around the region. The final concert at the Forbidden City Concert Hall was an occasion the musicians and their families will never forget.
A sporting chance
Sports and physical activity are valued at ISB for their role in health, promoting teamwork, and providing a balanced education not solely based on academics. ISB put its belief in wellness for the whole community into action in October and November with a host of activities benefiting the body, mind, and soul of students, staff and parents. It is an annual tradition here to celebrate women’s well-being in October and men’s health in November.
One popular sport at ISB is volleyball. The girls team were crowned APAC Volleyball champions in October. The same month’s student-organized charity volleyball tournament was one of a number of events throughout the year when ISB’s athletes combined their passion for sports with fostering community spirit and raising money for a good cause.
One of ISB’s most successful sporting programs is aquatics, with the swimmers enjoying both success in races and a strong sense of community around the pool. Around 1,200 of ISB’s 1,700 students participate in the pool, either competitively or non-competitively. This year, the racers powered their way to the top of a league table of teams in international schools worldwide. ISB took the overall team and male team title in International School Aquatics’ latest rankings. After a busy year of swim meets with many new records set, ISB’s girls occupy third place in the female team ranking.
One of the reasons ISB’s sporting programs are so rich is the resources the school can draw upon. In January, the benefits of the school’s alumni network really flowed as students brought Olympic swimmer and 2011 graduate Camille Cheng to campus. Ms. Cheng, who represented Hong Kong at the Rio Games, coached the Varsity Swimming Boot Camp and talked to the community at large about her experiences.
These are just some of the many highlights of another year of great, challenging and joyful learning at ISB. And everyone involved at the school can enjoy the summer safe in the knowledge that exciting projects that have begun this year are set to strengthen ISB still further from 2019-2020.