This feature first appeared in Journeys Winter 2018.
This article was written by Charlotte Hewson.
One of the three strategic anchors at Singapore American School is extraordinary care. The SAS community is fully committed to making sure every student has a place, every student feels well known and connected, and that the potential of every student is identified. Without extraordinary care, the strategic anchors of excellence and possibilities cannot be cultivated. Relationships and connections allow students to overcome the academic or personal challenges they may face throughout their school journey. When students feel safe and connected to individuals and activities in the life of the school, they are more likely to learn at high levels and experience personal success.
Cultivating a tradition of extraordinary care in a school of over 4,000 students is no easy feat. But at SAS, the steady adoption of evidence-based practices can be seen in every division. From responsive classrooms to advisory, dozens of practices are being implemented to build healthy relationships and intentionally create a longlasting culture of extraordinary care.
FROM TRANSITIONAL CARE...
SAS like any other international school serves a transient community. Facing extraordinary transitions requires extraordinary care. Counseling services are an integral part of every SAS student’s school experience. Whether it be a kindergartener stepping foot inside a formal school setting for the very first time or a senior enduring a sixth international relocation, the becoming of an Eagle for every student entails an all-important induction with a lasting impression. Counselors at SAS guide every student transition and ensure students feel well known from their earliest moments through a new student orientation and introduction to life at SAS.
High school is a time when students face a lot of change. In response to this, the high school counseling office has recently been remodeled to make two offices, one for social emotional counseling and one for college counseling. This specialized model allows more personalized attention to the needs of each student and family. Personal and academic counselors advise and guide the academic, personal, and social-emotional wellbeing of students from ninth through twelfth grade. Assigned during freshman year, high school counselors develop a personal relationship with their students in order to guide them more effectively as they navigate their teenage years and new transitions. High schoolers are encouraged and feel free to discuss the unique academic and personal challenges they face.
Academic advising is facilitated by high school counselors and faculty. Each year, counselors meet with students to discuss course options for the following school year. Students are encouraged to speak with their current teachers regarding the most appropriate course for them in each subject area, and counselors assist students with maintaining a manageable and balanced workload. In the spring of sophomore year, students are assigned a second counselor, the college counselor, who guides students and families through the tense processes of college search, application, and matriculation from SAS.
...TO CARE THROUGH COUNSEL...
In addition to conducting entry and exit family transitional programs, elementary and middle school counselors teach character education lessons, provide individual and family counseling, facilitate small group workshops for students, lead parent coffees, and coordinate student services around the school. Counselors act as student advocates and allies, as they work to enhance our students’ experiences at SAS.
In middle school, there are three counselors, one psychologist, and a Dean of Student Life that work as a team to support students through the complexities of adolescence. Each grade level has an assigned counselor who ‘loops’ with the students; moving with a group of students through the middle school—sixth grade to seventh and then seventh to eighth. In this way, counselors form strong and trusting relationships with students and families.
In addition to counselors, homebase advisory is an essential middle school experience at SAS. At the start of school everyday students in this division meet with a homebase advisor who teaches lessons on social and emotional skills. All middle school students are part of a homebase group of approximately 12 students. The homebase advisory philosophy encourages a close professional relationship between the student and at least one adult in the school. It also serves to keep students connected; learning about weekly events, planning for Classroom Without Walls, growing in social skills and study habits, and developing strong and supportive peer relationships.
In high school, advisory programs exist to ensure that every student is known, advocated, and cared for. Advisory aims to foster healthy, productive, and valuable relationships between students and their teachers, peers, and their families. As students mature they spend more time thinking about their friends, relationships and social status, and sometimes need help with that thinking to make healthy choices. Our advisory program is designed to counsel each high schooler in an objective way. Each student is placed in a grade-level advisory group that stays together for four years. Each advisory room is composed of 10 to 12 students.
Advisory meetings are structured around the content and behaviors needed to best ensure the social emotional health of all students, improve academic success, and prepare students for the inevitability of change in their lives. Each advisory strives to create an atmosphere of trust where students feel safe to discuss a wide range of academic and personal matters in a setting which helps to balance the academic demands of the SAS experience. We’ve seen tremendous results already in this high school program, which provides another way to reach students that might be struggling and need to feel connected.
In recognition of the importance of extraordinary care for each student, SAS also employs two full-time Deans of Student Life in middle school and high school. As the middle school dean, Ryan Bruce is the counseling department chair, and oversees advisory and supports peer council. Additionally, he supports discipline by helping understand their choices The high school dean, Sue Nesbitt, is a trained counselor, whose role is to support high school students in achieving success academically, guiding student conduct, and assisting students to manage the wide-ranging activities and clubs available at SAS. In the 2019–20 academic year, elementary school will hire a Dean of Student Life.
...TO CARE AT RECESS...
Extraordinary care in the early learning center extends to time beyond play and learning activities. In preschool and pre-kindergarten, students can look forward to dining every day with their teacher. Lunch and recess periods are opportunal occasions for relationship building, connection, and instructional learning to occur outside of a core learning environment.
In the 2018–19 academic year, the elementary school hired its first recreational specialist. During recess, kindergarten through third grade students are supported with structured play building hard and soft skills, aiming to meet American standards of physical activity and movement in children. In addition to getting kids active and moving, the specialist aims to encourage reluctant or shy students to get involved in play activities. Through structured play, students explore team work, communication, and devising strategies among each other. This builds resilience and character, and offers students the extraordinary care they need when learning how to navigate positive friendships with peers.
From the Millenium Falcon cockpit to a spooky haunted house to an enchanted Harry Potter world, the ever-transforming creativity center is a purposeful space that encourages third through fifth grade students to make projects and make new friends. In a relaxed and comfortable setting students are guided by SAS staff member, Charlotte Huston and parent volunteers who introduce themes that inspire students to create, converse, and find individual and common interests. The creativity center provides a safe haven for children to explore, discover, and navigate ideas, resolutions, and a shared social understanding. It offers the perfect environment to achieve our SAS desired student learning outcomes of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, communication, content knowledge, character, and cultural competence. To many children the creativity center—a space they can choose to visit during lunch and recess—is an important part of their school day.
...AND CARE BEYOND THE SCHOOL GATE...
In middle school the primary goal of Classroom Without Walls is for students to build positive relationships, trust, and cooperation with each of their peers and teachers by facing unique challenges and experiences outside of the familiarity and comfort of the classroom. Whether it be a day trip to Pulau Ubin or a three-night stay in Indonesia, as students pack their bags in preparation for the activities ahead, so do our SAS teachers and counselors. Middle school faculty guide their students in risk-taking, cooperation, and supporting others as they face new challenges together. Trust, goal-setting, and resiliency are just a few of the traits that this signature program aims to instill in students, who also further develop their own environmental awareness and cultural competence through participating in activities specific to each trip.
Once in high school, students continue to receive the extraordinary care and dedication from SAS faculty through further exercises and experiences outside of the classroom walls. Recounted as one of the most beloved memories by alumni, is the longstanding Interim Semester tradition which makes up an essential part of the high school curriculum.
In the second semester all regularly scheduled high school courses cease while students, teachers, and counselors participate in an important program that provides the opportunity for teenagers to move out of their comfort zone and grow. Teachers and counselors ensure wide-ranging involvement with students beyond the counseling office or classroom, and travel with students on a weeklong Interim Semester trip every year providing extraordinary counsel and guidance in unique learning environments. It is these trips that create enduring memories for our students and are fondly remembered by SAS alumni.
...TO CARE IN THE CLASSROOM...
The elementary division has implemented a responsive classroom approach across the grade levels. This is an important step toward building consistency for social emotional learning, as well as the language used in our classrooms, lunchroom, and play areas. The responsive classroom approach is a way of teaching that creates a safe, challenging, and joyful climate for all students, understanding that all of their needs—academic, social, emotional, and physical—are important. For children to be academically successful, they must be socially strong. The responsive classroom equips our faculty members with strategies to build better relationships within the classroom and wider school community. Some of the strategies of this approach include positive and consistent teacher language, energizers, and daily morning meetings. These meetings explore and practice social skills, and aim to merge social, emotional, and academic learning. They are designed to nurture empathy by offering children the opportunity to practice taking care of one another. It starts the day on a positive note, and develops communication skills of speaking and listening. The closing circle at the end of each day allows for reflection and aims to bring a peaceful end to the school day.
Throughout each division, faculty and counselors collaborate with each other in the best interests of students. Collaborative practices such as professional learning communities and kid chats create collective responsibility in helping students to succeed socially and academically. These working groups provide a space for faculty to connect, counsel one another, and work as a team to bring extraordinary care into their classrooms.
...AND FINALLY, CONTINUAL CARE.
From new student orientation to graduation or relocation to a new school, relationships are fostered at every step of an Eagle’s academic career and last far beyond their time on campus. The dedication to care from our SAS faculty is highlighted through our strongly connected alumni community. The alumni relations office frequently observe alumni returning to our school gates to meet with teachers they remain connected to post graduation. These alumni remember the kindness. The empathy. The care and concern. The time taken to listen. The time they were asked how they felt. How they really felt. Years after our Eagles graduate, we often hear that it is our caring faculty whom students remember the most. They remember teachers who invested time, attention, and energy toward not only teaching a curriculum but building relationships and advocating for their students, always pushing beyond care to extraordinary care.