The Value of Community

By Beth R 2019-06-24 14:10:36

An insight into the heart of the Western International School of Shanghai

Walking through the corridor of a school allows you to see the subtleties of education if you have the opportunity to look. Sure, there are classrooms, a library, a school yard, and students milling about, but what should really stand out is a sense of connection between families, teachers and faculty staff. For a child, school is as much about life skills and community as it as about education, and it is the hub of their daily life. But what would this mean if your son or daughter were not only starting school but starting school in a completely new city or new environment? How do you make sure they feel safe and secure in their daily life when you yourself are also starting a new life in a new place? According to many, the true key is having a strong community that maintains open and honest lines of communication.

Living in a foreign country means being far away from your family and friends and no longer being able to call them when something goes wrong. Therefore, we naturally gravitate toward people that can become a surrogate family, and that is exactly what the Western International School of Shanghai continually strive for. WISS ensure a strong community first and foremost through the Parent Association - the collective group for parents and guardians of all students currently enrolled at WISS; and secondly by adopting an ‘open door’ policy. Not only does the PA arrange social gatherings through their Social Event Committee but they also have a Welcome Committee for newcomers to not only WISS but China itself.

Renee Gian, the Director of Admissions and Marketing at WISS, explained that every family is an important branch to the larger WISS community. As an example, the PA connects a liaison to all newcomers when they first arrive to help them do things that would be taken for granted in our home countries. From finding a supermarket to buy groceries, to opening a bank account, to even setting up WeChat and Alipay; which let’s face it is absolutely crucial to daily China conveniences. However, aside from the technicalities of settling down in a new country there are also the difficulties to really finding your rhythm.

For Ekaterina, President of the Parent Association, the school’s community was crucial to her first year in China when she moved here with her husband and two children. As a trailing spouse Ekaterina discussed the challenges that she faced in finding purpose to each day and that there is only so many hours you can spend cleaning your house or sightseeing; eventually you have to find something to give your daily life meaning. One of the programmes at WISS called the WISS Saturday School is a volunteering programme for members of the PA that has been established for over twelve years with the goal of teaching English to local children who cannot afford to attend an English school or pay for a tutor. Ekaterina went on to say that despite the fact English is also her second language, teaching children to understand English grammar and pronunciation gave her a purpose, and also allowed her to connect to other parents in the community.

For Mariette, also a member of the Parent Association, living abroad is no great feat and China was simply the next destination on their journey across multiple continents and various cultures. But what she did notice was how different China was to all the other countries they had visited and for her this meant finding the right surroundings and support for her children in the last stages of their young educational voyage. As Dutch natives, she and her husband were looking for a school that reflected their values of tolerance, zero judgement, treating others how you want to be treated and understanding other cultures; and WISS offered all of this and more.

Both Ekaterina and Mariette discussed one of their favourite aspects of the WISS classroom culture and that was that at the beginning of a new school year their children would learn something about their respective classmates’ cultures. For Ekaterina’s children this was particularly inspiring because they come from a German and Russian background. They were able to not only connect to their native cultures but also share this with their peers.

For Tiffany, organiser of the school’s 2018 WISStival, and Jaclyn, a member who is responsible for building a partnership between the school and parents, choosing WISS was a very easy decision. It wasn’t just about the curriculum or the standards of the school grounds, more importantly, it was where their children felt the most at ease and happy. On their first visit to WISS they were greeted by the previous Director of Admissions and given a tour of the grounds, and what Tiffany noticed was how the staff seemed to know each student by name and were able to carry on conversations with them. For Jaclyn, the staff made time to explain in detail how the IB curriculum works and about the Chinese programme.

Renee went on to explain that in order for the PA to work the parents had to trust the school and the staff.

“Miscommunication is avoided because we have a two-way communication. It is so important that we know and understand the views and opinions of the parents.”

No matter what concern or what suggestion a parent has all of them are welcomed and heard by the school and considering the extent of parent involvement at WISS it is evident just how true that statement is.

Having a strong community is a value not to be underestimated. It is an essential value that produces happy students, happy parents, and happy staff, and together they make WISS not only a warm and fun place to be but a highly successful institute for learning and future accomplishments.

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