By Nick Yates, ISB Communications
Despite the challenging and unusual nature of 2019-2020, it’s been another busy year at the International School of Beijing (ISB), full of innovation and success in the classroom, on stage, and on sports fields. But it will be best remembered as the year when we faced up to the global challenge of Covid-19, together.
In November, a community vote formally approved a refreshed ISB Mission statement: “We are an inspiring international community in Beijing where thinkers and leaders find their place in the world and serve others. So that our learning is at its best, we build strong relationships and set high expectations together. We are committed to challenging and joyful learning with the freedom to explore.”
The community vote also adopted our new Vision: “Empowered with purpose and compassion.”
And maybe never before in our lifetimes have purpose and compassion been more important.
These guiding statements, set to be formally adopted for 2020-2021, gave many of us strength and inspiration during the challenging months after first Wuhan, then the rest of China, then the rest of the world were disrupted by the emergence of a novel coronavirus. Despite being ordered for safety reasons to close campus for much of the end of the academic year, our students, teachers, staff, and families have stayed strong as a community. Through online courses and instruction, students have still accomplished a great deal.
Here are some highlights of 2019-2020 as we look forward to reuniting on campus next year.
Our students were able to celebrate another year of excellent results in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme, with an average score of 36 – six points higher than the typical global average. ISB students’ IB average has been at 35 points or above since 2009. One ISB student was even awarded the maximum 45 points this year!
The results are down to students’ hard work as well as the dedication of the teachers and counselors. Many ISB teachers returned to school after the Summer Break having given up time to travel for training and to attend conferences. Their dedication brought the latest research on education from around the world back to classrooms in Beijing.
ISB’s programs are designed to be based on research and best practice in pedagogy, and the school empowers its staff to consider new approaches and adapt their teaching so that it is most effective for students. Close to 70 percent of ISB’s school-fee revenue is reinvested on personnel, including funding training for them. While ISB recruits the most qualified, experienced, and passionate teachers, it is also almost unmatched in Asia in terms of the resources it puts into coaching for its world-class faculty.
Sporting life at ISB was in full swing, with our athletes and teams in action against peers from across the region in China Cup competitions. They were kept in good shape by ISB’s dedicated athletic trainer and the students in his Sports Medicine Club.
Meanwhile, ISB’s annual Teacher Recruitment Fair brought more than 150 excellent, highly qualified teachers to the campus in an innovative way to continue to ensure the school finds the best teachers for its students.
In October, ISB hosted battling bots in the Robotics Tech Challenge for schools around the region. And anyone who didn’t have the stomach for robot wars could have found a more endearing sight in Elementary students working around miniature workbenches in our high-tech design lab specially set up for the youngest learners. These are two examples of the rapid development of ISB’s tech and design programs.
In the High School in particular, ISB fine-tuned its curriculum and augmented its co-curricular clubs this year to best prepare students for a world in which artificial intelligence is a bigger and bigger part of life and employment. Faculty are ensuring that graduates leave ISB with design, coding, and engineering skills.
While many schools wait until middle or high school to begin offering design courses to their students, at ISB, we give an introduction to our design process in PreK 3. In the Elementary Design Lab, tools are placed at heights for equal accessibility. Sophisticated supplies are stored within reach to give the students opportunity to make the most use of these items.
The ISB Design Process, visualized in poster form around school, is a way for students to develop their design skills and share a common design language whether they are in a Kindergarten class or Grade 10. By October, faculty had finished drawing up a simplified version of the Design Process with logos for Elementary students.
ISB’s programs value young learners’ physical and social-emotional health along with their academic performance, and it is tradition at the school to celebrate women’s well-being in October and men’s health in November. Visitors to campus may have noticed a particular glow in people’s cheeks, a smile on their faces, and a bounce in their steps as ISB put its belief in wellness for the whole community into action with a host of activities benefiting the body, mind, and soul of students, staff, and parents.
This was also a big month in ISB’s performing arts program, with audiences treated to both the Middle School and High School theater productions. MS students staged Shakespeare adaptation A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the Night They Missed the Forest for the Trees. This year’s HS Production was Girls Like That, a compelling and highly relevant play exploring gender equality and pressures on today’s digital generation.
ISB provides lots of chances to learn through service. What better time of year for this? The “season of goodwill” saw students, including in the Elementary and Middle Schools, lead and give to a number of charitable initiatives.
ISB ushered in the Chinese New Year with traditional celebrations on campus on January 22, ensuring strong integration with the local culture. Students, teachers, staff, and parents came together for activities including a school-wide parade, temple fair, and performances. The campus was thrown open to ISB families, who enjoyed workshops on local crafts and social practices.
This New Year event is one of the major undertakings of ISB’s Chinese Language and Culture Center (CLCC). The CLCC was created to enhance Chinese themed events at ISB and consolidate our Chinese language program as one of the region’s best in an international school.
Years in the planning, we also announced the opening of two exciting new facilities this month. The Elementary School Arts Center and Theater, and the Middle School/High School Performing Arts Center were by this point fully operational, and we were looking forward to teaching in them from February.
This was the month when life as we knew it paused and the ISB community rose to the challenge of Covid-19, enforced campus closure, and online learning. There were suggestions of a virus outbreak in Hubei as we broke up for our Chinese New Year Break at the end of January, but little did we know at that point how quickly things would escalate.
To limit the spread of the coronavirus (later officially named Covid-19), ISB and other schools were told that we would not be able to re-open campus until further notice. This government directive came as a large portion of the community, including families and teachers, were on vacation abroad. Travel restrictions and practical and safety concerns have since kept many of them away from Beijing. Coming so unexpectedly, the unprecedented situation has created huge challenges.
ISB already had systems in place that would allow the learning to continue in the event of medium-term school closure. Specialist online platforms are in common use at ISB. As we launched into online learning, we also started providing resources and advice for parents supporting their children at home, as well as surveying parents and students on how we could strengthen our online learning program. We’ve continually acted on this feedback to make adjustments and provide the best online learning we can. After all, this unprecedented situation of sustained campus closure has placed faculty on a steep learning curve just like students.
ISB’s Media Mentor Month is an annual initiative encouraging parents to talk to their children about what they are doing with their digital devices. Being online opens a world of possibility but it also comes with risk. Media Mentor Month assumed even more importance in March 2020, with the community thrust onto an adventure in online learning. We once again circulated calendars suggesting activities that parents can use as ways to engage with their daughters or sons on what they are doing on screen.
This month, students who led a project to electrify the school’s bus fleet were also honored with a top international prize.
April ended with a happy day tinged with regret, as we were allowed to welcome select grades back to campus. Even right at the end of the school year in June, after being cleared by government authorities to re-open to most grades, we knew there were many students and community members still missing. Travel restrictions continue to keep families and teachers away from Beijing, and it has not been safe or appropriate to welcome back our youngest learners.
From February, when we were first ordered to close campus to limit the spread of the coronavirus, ISB achieved much in adversity, and April held a lot of success stories. Our online learning program had made great strides by this point in providing for a student body kept away from conventional schooling by the circumstances. This article provided examples of the innovative methods teachers have been using to continue offering ISB’s quality programs remotely. From virtual choirs to interactive analyses of class discussions, ISB students have been engaged in some fun and very effective learning.
ISB’s world-class teachers are made even better through regular training. We believe that our continued commitment to this during the campus closure has been key to delivering great online learning.
While study has been of leading importance as usual, another important consideration has been boosting spirits and togetherness at this time of strain and separation. Middle School students had a great idea in this regard. They organized a virtual version of their annual Spirit Week in April. There were smiles all round as they shared photos of themselves around the world and dressed up for theme days.
This month, ISB also celebrated Earth Day with the announcement that the school is now powered by 100 percent renewable electricity from a local wind farm. This was a target set in our Sustainability Roadmap 2025, through which ISB is pioneering sustainability in international schools.
This was the month for celebrating our graduating students, who have triumphed through adversity. With campus closed for much of winter and spring and many community members in isolation around the world, Covid-19 deprived Seniors of many joint experiences and they – like all members of the ISB community – have had to be resolute through some tough times. So, we were especially happy to announce in May that they have, once more, received offers from universities worldwide. College acceptance notifications continue to flood in for our students.
ISB ensured that we could host as many of the traditional rite-of-passage moments for the Seniors as possible. Our oldest students enjoyed a Seniors Parade and a graduation observance hosted on campus, with the experience all the sweeter after a long period when it seemed Covid-19 would make the event, such a milestone in school life, impossible. ISB was only allowed to re-open campus to Grade 12 on April 27, and it took a huge effort from the High School team to organize these activities in such a short space of time.
Other events Seniors enjoyed despite the disruption included virtual career days and virtual versions of the annual exhibition of International Baccalaureate (IB) art students’ work and IB film students’ Premiere Night.
We ended the year looking to the future and celebrating the past. Our alumni enjoyed the first ever virtual ISB alumni reunion. The school organizes regular events for former students and community members, like these in London and New York. On the most recent occasion, 50 alumni and their family members from all over the globe got a sneak peek via Zoom at the newest ISB campus renovations, caught up with old friends and teachers, and put their knowledge of ISB trivia to the test in a quiz.
After a challenging few months, the ISB Advancement Office is busy preparing for celebrations of the school’s 40th anniversary in 2020-2021. A series of events will be organized to celebrate and reflect on our four decades of world-class education, highlighting the achievements of our students, staff, and alumni. After the trials we’ve endured so far with Covid-19, we must take time to celebrate the success of our school over the last four decades and generate further excitement and optimism for the decades to come.
Have a good summer everyone!