Thursday, October 27, 2016

Beyond the grades

This is a follow-up post from the one I shared on Andre's graduation from secondary school.

After that post, I received some emails asking me what school Andre was in, where the teachers sounded so fantastic. I feel I need to put up this disclaimer: I'm not saying every teacher in Andre's school is "good". I believe that every school has its share of dedicated teachers and not-so-good ones, however you want to define "good". But if a school culture is one which understands a child's worth is more than the grades in his report book, especially if upheld and reinforced at the top, you're more likely to have teachers who translate this philosophy on the ground. And that's where I think Andre's school has gotten it right versus Lesley-Anne's secondary school.

Over the last four years, Andre's secondary school journey has been eventful. Academic-wise, there have been heart-stopping moments when he's performed less than satisfactory. At one point in sec3, I even wondered if he was going to be promoted to sec4 as he struggled with his new subjects.

But at every juncture, I found most of the teachers to be encouraging. It has become a running joke in my own head that whenever I attended a parent-teacher conference, the form teacher or subject teacher would look at his grades, then turn to me earnestly and say, "but he's a very nice boy!" Translation: ok lah, let's focus on something else more positive.

It's not lost on me that should Andre have been in a different secondary school, he might have had his spirit crushed, due to his academic challenges, and for this, I'm so thankful God led him to this school. We didn't know it at the time but it turned out to be a much bigger blessing than we could have imagined. One of Andre's greatest passions is in badminton and here, his ability was allowed to bloom. He was given the opportunity to be Captain and Vice-Captain of the school team for four years, where he developed his own gentle leadership style by setting a good example for his teammates. Andre's a quiet leader and not one to expect anything in return, so it was a wonderful surprise when his badminton teacher picked him for this Outstanding Leadership Award.

In addition, he wrote Andre a glowing testimonial. Quoting a portion of it here:
"Despite the grueling nature of the physical training, he had endured the demanding sessions without any complaints. He had even taken the initiative to encourage his peers in striving to complete their training. During competitions, Andre has always shown his presence. On the court, he plays to his utmost and fights hard for every single point. Off the court, he is supportive and motivates his team mates throughout their games...He had demonstrated that he is a caring and nurturing leader. He treated his peers and juniors with respect and yet still managed to demand standards and quality from them. He is patient towards the beginning players and would work tirelessly with them in practicing their fundamental skills."
It's so heart-warming to know that Andre's efforts have not gone unnoticed (especially since the badminton teacher is a man of few words, so it was a real surprise to read such ardent praise). Andre also received a testimonial from his form teacher, as is the normal practice for all graduating students. Here's a snippet of what she wrote:
"Andre is extremely good-natured, often the peacemaker in difficult situations. He gets along easily with everyone regardless of differences in cultural background. He is sensitive to peers and has a strong sense of empathy due to his ability to see and understand from the perspectives of others. Andre works very well with others, contributing positively and effectively in teams. Andre shows the potential to be both a follower and a mover. He can adapt easily to situations, follow instructions or step up to lead others. He is a promising youth with aspirations."
I picked this snippet because I think the teacher has summed up how Andre's character has grown and solidified over the last four years. Today, when I look at Andre, I see someone who's compassionate, humorous and well-liked - qualities that I believe are what maketh a man. Many people have said, and it's true, that it's the secondary school years that mold a boy's character. For this, I give a lot of credit to the school for consistently looking at every facet of his development more than just academic, and giving him the space and opportunities to discover himself and develop his abilities.

To the school, thank you for helping my son blossom. You score an A+ in my books.

Monday, October 17, 2016

A brighter shade of Danger Dan

A Danger Dan update!

First up, #3 of the Danger Dan and Gadget Girl series has arrived! Introducing The Gruesome Garden. A behind-the-scenes reveal: the original shade of the cover had a lot more yellow and was closer to an olive green. I didn't like it. To me, Danger Dan is synonymous with all things bright and unsubtle, much like his personality. So I kept asking the Epigram Books designer to go "Brighter! Brighter!" like some attention-seeking Ah Beng.

This is the result...and I LOVE it. Thank you, Lydia!

This book was one of the more fun ones to write in this series, because its storyline somehow flowed naturally and there weren't any plot holes to cover (I shan't reveal which one gave us the most trouble). The jokes also came quite easily.You may not realise this but coming up with original jokes can be quite a challenge, especially if we're feeling uninspired. Being funny is hard work!

Here's a sneak peak of what is perhaps Lesley-Anne's and my favourite illustration, not just of this book but of the series. I wish I could have a framed copy of the pic - it's so comical it never fails to crack me up. Elvin, our illustrator, is a genius! (I'm showing a sneak peak of the two accompanying pages so the illustration makes sense).

It'll probably take a couple of weeks for the bookstores to stock the book. By then, exams should be over, making it the perfect time to go grab a copy for your kid :)

More news: Secrets of Singapore has been nominated for a couple of book awards! The first one is the Popular Readers' Choice Awards 2016. This is the third consecutive year a Danger Dan book has been nominated in the English (Children) category. You can cast your vote from now till 31 October. Popular vouchers are up for grabs.

The second award nomination is for the Red Dot Book Awards 2016-2017. These are books recommended by school librarians in Singapore and include overseas books, so we're very honoured to be part of the list.

It's been an absolute thrill seeing our books gaining traction. Media publicity is something that's notoriously hard to come by, so it's gratifying to know that more kids have come to know about and read our books nonetheless. In fact, three of our books have recently gone for reprint (Secrets of Singapore is into its third print run, hooray!)

Finally, the annual Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) is coming up in November and this year, Lesley-Anne will be participating in two panel events - Singapore Through Their Eyes (10 Nov 7-8pm) and Write This Way: A Guide for Teens by Teens (13 Nov 5-6pm). If you'd like to meet her and listen to the other participants, do come for the events.

Check out this piece by the SWF which lists her as one of the 8 Singaporean writers you should know about. Sharing as a proud mama, of course! Do support us, ya?

Monday, October 3, 2016

The happy boy graduates

Last weekend was a momentous one for Andre. For one, it marked his graduation from secondary school. "But wait!" you might say. "What about the 'O' levels?" Ah yes. The 'O' levels will begin for him on 19 October but most secondary schools hold the graduation ceremony for sec 4 and 5 students at the end of September. The rest of the time up to the 'O' levels, the students are on home study leave, although they are still free to contact teachers for consults.

The graduation ceremony on Friday was a blast. Unlike at elite schools where the graduation ceremonies tend to be serious affairs, the one at Andre's school was noisy, fun and well, downright celebratory. 

The students went up on stage to collect their testimonials, to loud cheers from their friends. I kid you not when I tell you that at least a couple of students took selfies with their teachers right there on stage! To me, it was such a joy to see the abundance of spontaneity and merriment.

But more than the fun and laughter, what came through during the ceremony was how much the teachers of this school cared for their students. A long video was played, featuring messages from many form and subject teachers wishing their classes all the best. Most of the messages were not generic ones. For instance, Andre's form teacher (also his geography teacher) created a powerpoint that inserted all sorts of funny puns using geography terms that the students had learnt. A literature teacher read out some of the inspiring poems written by the students in her class.

Then another video montage was played which featured photos of the graduating cohort, not just in 2016 but all the way back to 2013 during the sec1 orientation. The hall was in an uproar as the students would whoop whenever one of their friends appeared on the screen. It's amazing how much some of the chubby, cherubic kids have changed over four years, especially the boys!

Later, Andre showed me the cards he's received. One was a personalised note of encouragement from a teacher who was his form teacher for only a short while in sec2. Yet, she took the time to write to everyone who was in her class then. This same teacher had made them write a note to their future self. She had kept the notes and returned them on graduation day. One of the goals Andre had written was "Must learn more about Minecraft", next to "Must listen more in class" :)) It was a wonderful way for the students to see how far they've come.

Neighbourhood school, champion teachers. I couldn't have asked for a better school for Andre to grow in his secondary school years. Here, the teachers always looked beyond academics to see and care for the whole child. Even when he was failing badly, they never quashed his spirit and always looked to encourage him in other ways. The response of the students during the graduating ceremony was testament to what the teachers have accomplished. 

With that, Andre has (more or less) completed his secondary school journey. Just before he celebrated his 16th birthday on Sunday. I can scarcely believe that in a matter of months, both my kids would have entered the higher education phase of their lives.

More challenges ahead? Probably...but I'm ready! Armed with old flower eye glasses and glucosamine cream for creaky knees, I'm looking forward to the journey.

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