Monday, October 21, 2013

The blessing of the "right" school

This week, the curtains will officially come down on Andre's sec 1 year. I write this post primarily as one of thanksgiving.

Last year when we were looking for schools for Andre, we visited quite a few open houses. This is very important because from mingling with the students, teachers and parents, you can often get a sense of the ethos of the school. Eg. in one school, I had the sense that discipline was the focus. In another, IT and facilities. In yet another, building self-confidence and self-expression (which was quite typical as it was a mission school).

Then we visited Andre's school and it was here that I felt it had the most caring culture among all those we've seen. It has a high value add score (which to me is much more important than 'O' level results). Eg. We were told that the string ensemble had won gold in past Singapore Youth Festivals which in itself may not mean much, until we found out that many of the kids who joined the CCA at sec 1 had no musical training (unlike in most top schools). That impressed me as string instruments are not easy to learn within a short time. It showed that the teachers were willing to teach kids from scratch and bring them up to par. That's commendable.

As I shared last year, in the end, Andre's PSLE t-score wasn't good enough for this school but he managed to get in via appeals. As in always the case, God really knows best. Because the school turned out to be a huge blessing for Andre.

For the first time, the school decided to place all the sports DSA and appeal kids in one class. As expected, this class is not one of the strongest academically as many of them had t-scores below the cut off point. However, this suited Andre perfectly as he was with like-minded peers, both mentally and academically. Being in the sports class had other benefits. The kids worked incredibly well together. In fact, his class was so reputed for team work that MOE paid a visit to study it as a model class on how to get kids to work better together. There was none of the usual ugly competitive spirit that typifies more academically-inclined classes. One of Andre's primary school friends is in the top class in the school and for almost half a year, he would seek out Andre at recess and complain that he hated his class and his classmates. I felt sorry for the boy. What a miserable way to spend your school life!

At the badminton CCA, Andre thrived too. Thanks to the teacher in charge who is big on values and sportsmanship, the kids in the CCA enjoy the game for what it is, and not just for winning medals. They would often ask for training even on non-scheduled training days, that's how much they enjoy the CCA. Andre found himself part of a social group that he connected strongly with. He was even made captain of the sec 1 school team - a bonus.

When I look back at the whole process of finding a school for Andre, there were times when we wondered why certain doors were closed to him. We considered pros and cons of all the different paths. So many things to think about. How to decide? I suspect it was because we were so uncertain, that God eventually made the decision for us. And it couldn't have been a better fit for Andre. He's happy and has adjusted well. It's a great environment for him to grow into his teenage years.   

I share Andre's story because I know this is a time when parents of p6 kids are thinking of secondary schools and I want to stress this: the fit is VERY important. Too often, I find that parents just want their kids in the top brand name schools, with no consideration as to whether their kids will thrive there. The competitive school environment is not for everyone. Making it through the doors really is just the first step. There is no guarantee that everyone will survive there, let alone thrive. The media and schools always flash their success stories but unbeknownst to the public, there are MANY who struggle and fall out. I know this from the horror stories from Lesley-Anne's school and from other parents with kids in top schools. This ex Hwa Chong JC student's account is a timely reminder for some that gaining entry into a top school may not be a blessing for everyone.

I used to think some of our young national sportsmen and women were super all-rounders, able to handle the schoolwork in top schools and yet ace their sports. Then I started hearing anecdotal accounts of how many of these youths struggle to cope and the schools admit them only for the glory they bring. By the 'A' levels, some of these kids are quietly told to take their 'A' levels as a private candidate so as not to bring the school scores down, or to transfer elsewhere. If this is true, then it's a horrific reflection of how warped some schools' view of education has become. Do not let your children be pawns in this vicious pursuit of accolades above everything else.

I know not all my readers are Christians. I'm not suggesting that you can only find a good school for your child via divine intervention. What I'm saying is, look beyond the academics and brand name. Put aside the prestige and bragging rights. Visit the schools and find out more about them, whether the culture is something that would likely nurture your child, knowing his or her character and needs. The right school can be such a blessing and the wrong one, the total opposite. May you have the wisdom to discern which is which.


Anonymous said...

Nice. Thanks for this. It is truly a case of God knowing what's best too :)

Jo Frets Lee

Anonymous said...

Hi monica.. have always enjoyed yr posts. I wld like to drop u a PM on fb. And seek your advise on this same topic.. thanks for yr time !PL

Anonymous said...

wonderful piece, Monica. Glad that you found the correct environment for Andre. It's also a sober reminder to all parents not to look at the brand of the school as the sole factor to put your kids there. The veto factor should be the ethos - whether it fits the 'pattern' of your child.

Anonymous said...

sorry, that was Grace =]

Jo said...

Hi Monica

It's been a long time since I commented but I have been reading all your posts. Just been so busy since the kids hit upper pri. Next year is the big PSLE year for my elder D so I am not really looking forward to it :(

Being a sports mum, I have heard all the DSA sports stories which you mentioned. I was indeed surprised to hear this & I know for a fact several DSA sports kids from IP schools took their O levels ( or equivalent) privately "just in case". Several have been asked to leave after Sec 4 from these elite schools to lesser known JCs as well.

Moving into P6, DSA is now the HOT topic of discussion amongst us sports mums. Everyone assumes that our D will be applying to the usual elite schools under DSA Sports but in reality, she just wants to go back to her affiliated sec school. I was told that would be a waste as she has the opportunity to move to a top school thru DSA plus with decent grades, she can "make it" in these top schools.

When my D first took up the sport in P2 the thought of DSA didn't cross our mind. The fact that she has done pretty well in the sport of her choice is a surprise to us. A happy accident. We are happy if she chooses to stay with the affiliated sec sch but obviously time & time again we are asked why she would want to go the O level route when she can go via the IP route through DSA in other schools.

We are also not sure if she wishes to pursue the sport in sec sch as we realised it is very time consuming. We are willing to support her in it if she wishes but it will be a challenging balancing it with her studies.

We believe that God has plans for our D & He will find the right place for her even if what seems right to Him may sound illogical to others. We are of the view that the current mission school she is in is the right fit for her even if she has to go through the O level route. I can't understand why O levels is considered such a "bad" thing nowadays when we all went thru it during our time.

We do intend to visit some Open Houses next year but my D seems to have set her heart on remaining which in the end .. could be the best decision for us and for her.

monlim said...

Jo Lee: Thanks! Trust Ben is doing well at his schl too :)

PL: Sure, PM me on FB.

Grace: Thanks!

Jo: I'm so happy to hear that you have the wisdom to know your child and put her needs first! Many parents seem to have this strange belief that once their kid enters a top school, he or she will automatically cope well and churn out As with the rest of them. It doesn't work that way. If the child's academic standard is too far below everyone else's, there's a high chance coping will be an issue. Add the intensity and commitment of the sports DSA, it's a train wreck waiting to happen. It sounds like you've chosen the wise path (knowing your child and leaving it to God) so it's all good :)

Anonymous said...

hey Mon, i know i'm soooo not a mom but i've been chatting with my fav niece who's in P2. the young lady has already expressed her wishes to stay on in that school after PSLE. i hope she gets what she wants and that she'll continue to enjoy school. (yeah, i can't imagine life for Andre's friend who hated his class and classmates. that's really hard!) - kjj

monlim said...

KJJ: Good for your niece but p2 means she still has a long way to go! she might change her mind yet...

Amanda said...

Hi Monica.

Thanks for the sharing. I am blessed reading your pieces and benefiting from the insights you shared.Could I send you a PM on FB too to ask for some advice? I too have an 11 yo boy who is into badminton. Thank you. - Amanda

monlim said...

Amanda: Sure!

Unknown said...

Hi Monica,

May I know which secondary school Andre is in?


monlim said...

George: I deliberately don't reveal my kids' schools to protect their privacy.

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