School Finance 606: SAS Mythbusters 3–Immersion and More

As our two previous SAS Mythbusters articles provoked many positive responses, we are pleased to consider another batch of SAS "myths" and explain the facts surrounding them. To read our previous articles, see Mythbusting at SAS and Mythbusters 2–Enrollments, Profits and More.

1. "I've heard there will be a kindergarten Chinese immersion option next year."

This is true. We are excited to offer a Chinese (Mandarin) immersion option in kindergarten in 2017-18. This will be a one-way immersion program for students with little to no prior exposure to the language, becoming two-way by grades 4 and 5. Immersion programs require significant teacher and program development, and we have spent over two years in planning. We anticipate two Chinese immersion kindergarten classrooms next year, and we will add the strand to the next grade each year until every elementary grade has immersion classrooms in 2022-23. As our current breakdown for elementary language learners is roughly 75% Chinese and 25% Spanish, we are only planning a Chinese immersion strand at this point.

It is important to note that our elementary daily language program, now in its fifth year, has exceeded our most optimistic expectations. Its emphasis on interpersonal listening and speaking proficiency has enabled our Chinese and Spanish language learners to achieve outstanding growth. Their scores on the ACTFL Assessment of Performance toward Proficiency in Languages (AAPPL) consistently show impressive year-on-year improvement in language skills. In fact, these results compare favorably even with those of schools devoting more class time to language lessons, and we congratulate our dedicated language teachers on these outcomes. Most students will choose to remain in our daily language program while some will apply to the Chinese immersion kindergarten classes; both strands will focus on the personalized teaching and high-impact instructional practices that are the hallmark of an SAS education.

2. "There seem to be increasing numbers of non-English speakers in the younger grades. Is this true?"

We have not seen a significant increase in our English language learners (ELL), those children requiring the separate English language instruction available in grades 1 through 3. While numbers in our ELL program vary from year to year, our numbers this year increased by five students to fifty, out of a total of 726 students in these grades. Based on these figures, we can say this perception is false. Most students coming to SAS from non-English-speaking countries are already proficient in English, and all students entering SAS in fourth grade and higher must be proficient in English, as the ELL option ends after third grade. We have no designated ELL option before first grade because research shows that very young children acquire a target language best when immersed in a language-rich, experiential environment that gives them many opportunities to listen, speak, and interact with others. We find that our ELC and kindergarten students, learning with their English-speaking peers in such environments, rapidly become comfortable with the language.

Our students from non-English-speaking backgrounds add much to the international perspective SAS strives to give every child. SAS parents consistently say that they appreciate the global outlook and social flexibility their children gain from having classmates from a myriad of different countries. In addition, our population of native-Chinese speakers is an important asset for our Chinese learners, especially as we extend our language program options. Communicating in Chinese with friends and classmates helps all our Chinese learners, giving them authentic opportunities to use their language skills in and out of the classroom.

Please read our recent Student Demographics Part 1 article for more information on where SAS students come from.

3. "I am unhappy with the school's policy of forcing teachers to retire at age sixty."

This is not true, as we have never mandated retirement for employees at sixty. Singapore's retirement-age guidelines determine our policies regarding the upper age limit for both our local employees. We typically align our foreign employees to that same standard. Since the 1990s, the Singapore government has gradually increased the country's minimum retirement age to reflect demographic changes and social policy adjustments. At the end of the 1990s it was sixty-two, in 2012 it rose to sixty-five, and it will become sixty-seven effective July 2017.

4. "I believe that parents and students should be able to 'rate' teachers at SAS, but we never get an opportunity to do this. Is this true, and why?"

While students and parents don't "rate" teachers, students do give feedback to their teachers twice per year in grades three through twelve, using the online YouthTruth survey. Teachers read these anonymous responses to identify trends that show their teaching strengths and areas for improvement. While we do not have a similar process for parents, they are always welcome to contact their children's teachers or principals to let them know of problems or celebrate successes they hear about from their children.

The YouthTruth survey is one component of a broader process we call our Professional Growth and Excellence (PGE) program. The PGE identifies four areas of reflection for each SAS teacher:

  • self-analysis of his or her success in meeting the institutional commitments outlined in every teacher's contract
  • analysis of student learning results, based on classroom-level data
  • trends from the YouthTruth survey results
  • data from at least three classroom observation visits per year by his or her supervisor

Each teacher has at least two meetings per year with his or her supervisor (principal or deputy principal) to share reflections, discuss progress and, if appropriate, set goals. We are satisfied that this PGE is comprehensive, focused, and valuable for our teachers and principals.

5. "I hear SAS is infested with zombies. Is this true?"

We must admit, for one evening each year SAS is infested with zombies. In fact, up to seventy zombies have been counted on campus! However, we believe they all disappear after the last Zombie Run racer has finished. The Gawad Kalinga Zombie Run was again a huge success, and all the money raised will benefit the Sibol Preschool, founded by the SAS high school Gawad Kalinga Club in the Philippines. Congratulations to all who organized and participated in this event!

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Some of the zombies who appeared at SAS just before Halloween. Photos by Christine Chung.

Thanks to those who sent in SAS myths and questions for us to discuss in this article; we are always happy to set the record straight! We look forward to investigating more rumors, speculations, and dubious SAS "facts" in future Mythbusters articles, and we welcome any finance questions or suggestions for future articles, to