This article first appeared in the Singapore American Newspaper.
Imagine walking into an international school housed in a colonial-style bungalow. A garage for a science lab, servants’ quarters for music and pre-school, bedrooms for classrooms and a dining room for assemblies. Top that with a softball field and an outdoor basketball court you’d need to share with chickens raised by a Malay family that lived on the property.
Welcome to the Singapore American School (SAS) circa 1956
98 students. 57 Americans. 41 from other nationalities. A typical day at SAS started at 8:15am with singing God Save the Queen in assembly. Without air conditioning, the cooler morning hours were reserved for academic classes. Students went home for lunch and a rest and returned at 3pm for music, PE, art, drama and other enrichment activities.
In its most humble beginnings, the idea of the Singapore American School was moved forward when 130 children showed up at The American Club’s Christmas Party in 1952. It took all of three years for the American community to embrace the thought and the initial goal of raising $100,000 was achieved through donations from individuals and almost 40 companies.
Singapore American School opened on January 3, 1956, and was set in a large colonial house at 15 Rochalie Drive. It included only elementary and junior-high classes as older students were settled in boarding schools outside of Singapore. In the first few years the school developed enduring traditions. Sole senior Louise Feng received her diploma at The American Club in the first commencement ceremony in July 1958.
Students voted on a team name and soon the Eagles were born, playing fast-pitch softball, volleyball and basketball. A cheerleading squad appeared at games and local spectators were amazed. The first plays were performed. The Islander yearbook appeared in 1958 and the first junior-senior prom took place in 1959. The PTA organized a funfair, the forerunner of today’s International Fair, to raise money for a basketball court. Since the beginning, students wore white uniform tops and navy blue bottoms.
The next few decades saw the school as a concrete symbol of confidence, regardless of the political climate of the day. The 1960s was a decade of fundamental decisions related to the strategic direction of the school. The new King’s Road campus opened in 1962, resulting in increasing student numbers.
The 1970s was the most challenging decade for SAS. Growing pains, fundamental cultural changes within the school community and in Singapore, a changing student body and operating out of two campuses (King’s Road and Ulu Pandan), meant learning a lot of valuable lessons for future challenges. The 1980s and 1990s reverberated with radical changes, overcoming challenges and looking forward to opportunities with great confidence. The new millennium began with a 3,700-strong student body, a feat unimaginable in the previous years. With visionary leadership and a $65 million expansion, SAS became the largest single-campus American school outside the United States; a distinction it still holds. True academic rigor, a culture of care and excellence and embodiment of the American spirit were characteristic of SAS and remain so, to this day.
Today, as you enter the campus of the Singapore American School, it is a far cry from 60 years ago! But the American spirit still endures. The hallways echo with passion, excitement and a drive to learn, the walls shout out the achievements of Eagles across academics, sports and performance and visual arts. A sense of pride and belonging, of knowing that one is an Eagle for life, prevails.
It is not unusual to spot students, parents, employees and even visitors around the school’s Heritage Gallery, reminiscing about the past or just staring in awe at the things that were and are now. Like its host country, the school has come a long way in the 60 years of its existence; an expanded focus on inquiry, project-based learning and personalized learning, to prepare every student for the future.
Jim Baker’s book, Singapore’s Eagles: Singapore American School 1956-2006, inspired this article.
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