We had the pleasure of speaking to one of our parents, Natalie D., who has three children at OWIS. It is their second year enrolled at OWIS, and the children are in grade nine, grade five and grade three. We chatted to Natalie to find out more about her family's OWIS experience.
Q. What were some of the main factors in making you choose OWIS for your children when you arrived in Singapore?
A. We chose OWIS after being in Singapore for a while, based on the fact that it was a new school. The curriculum was quite fresh, and we were pretty excited about it. Also, we knew that with the size of the school, the children would be able to create a sense of community. That was really important to us, coming to Singapore after the kids had been in a smaller school, so it was definitely a wonderful way to adjust.
Q. Did you consider school fees when selecting OWIS?
A. Most definitely! You can’t beat the price point! It's a competitive market in Singapore, and sometimes it feels like the prices are going up, up, up, up up. OWIS is a quite realistic price point for families, especially families with multiple children. I think that the price point means that you definitely don't miss out. If you look around OWIS, you see that it's a new school. You notice that some of the buildings haven't been built yet but feel confident that they will be when the time is right. As the school expands and the population grows, you notice that these lovely tables, chairs, bookshelves and new classrooms are being put together, and it has a really warm sense of community here, and the teachers have been amazing.
Q. What other educational or co-curricular opportunities made you choose to enrol your children at OWIS?
A. Another fantastic thing about OWIS is that there's a large assortment of Co-Curricular Activities (CCA’s). After-school courses that you know are expanding each and every term. There's a wide variety of sports, music, culture, dance, exercise, etc. I think overall; you don't experience any lack of instruction in the classroom. You have caring, wonderful teachers across the board and they tend to be very communicative.
Q. Did you look for a school which had similar values to your own family values?
A. Yes, it's important that our family values are reflected in the school and that the school reflects our family values. Pastoral care is something that is quite important to us as a family and it provides an element of consistency. Everyone knows that in Singapore, parents work quite a bit. It is a place where you come to work so that your family time is really quality time that counts. And so when your kids are away at school, you want to be sure that they are receiving the same or similar values that you would get at home. In schools that the kids had attended previously, that culture of kindness was something that was really important to us because you do see a rise in bullying in some places.
Also, you do see a rise in negative behaviours sometimes in the classroom or online. We wanted to be sure that the kids were inculcated with values that support a diverse campus, linguistic diversity, cultural diversity, religious diversity and even when it comes to the kinds of foods that people eat, we want to be sure that our kids are aware and supportive of their friend's needs. I can say that the culture of kindness in primary and in secondary has been absolutely outstanding. Our kids are also active participants in that culture of kindness. It is absolutely wonderful to see the projects that they develop and the ways that they are brought out in their day to day school life.
Q. Have you got any examples?
A. The first example that I would give is the caring of the teachers. You know that if there is an issue going on in the classroom, the teachers tend to reach out and contact the family and that is really nice to know that we can have that kind of dialogue, where the children aren't just shut off away from the parents. The teachers and the children negotiate what happens during the day. The parents can become active participants in what their children are doing both academically and socially. I've had many discussions with my kids in secondary and also primary about issues of bullying, or you know, them perhaps watching someone else not be so kind to another student.
What I really admire about the teachers is how they've stepped in to create a very inclusive class environment and talk about the effects of being kind. There is definitely a positive twist on the culture of kindness instead of taking a deficit viewpoint and saying, This is bad, this is bad. Don't do this. Don't do this. What I've found with all of my kids across the board is that the children are really encouraged in values and in actions that support each other.
Q. How do you feel OWIS supports children and families who are new to Singapore?
A. You know, first and foremost when kids move overseas, or they're transitioning between countries as part of an expat life, kids are looking for foundation. They want social-emotional stability so that they can thrive in other areas of their life. What I found at OWIS, what I love about OWIS, is that the students here and the families that attend OWIS are so diverse. They're wonderfully diverse. And there's a real understanding that the kids sometimes come and go, but I do feel that at OWIS, there's a supportive environment for children who have to deal with those transitions of classmates coming or going, which can be kind of traumatic, especially for small kids.
What I would say to any parent who's considering coming to OWIS is to come and check out the campus and connect with some of the parents. There are the parent groups, and then there are also unofficial parent groups of all kinds. Everyone has been incredibly welcoming, enthusiastic, and wanting to create a community and curious about everybody's kids.
I have one son who has moved into secondary school, and he is preparing for his IGCSEs. Of course, that's a nerve-wracking time because kids behaviourally and socially go through that transition from where they’re children and they don't have to be entirely accountable in the same way that they are when they're in preparation for the big exam. So in terms of the culture and the involvement from the teachers, they've really encouraged a community of learning. That has been wonderful because it's allowed my son to become extremely independent and self-motivated with his learning versus having a kind of regimen, he does have a regimented day but not in a way where he's being forced to do it. He has a personal investment in doing well, and he's allowed to flourish in that way.
Q. Are the children enjoying their time at OWIS, and is there anything they particularly enjoy?
A. They're doing pretty well, I mean they like working on their unit of inquiry projects, and they enjoy working on those projects together and with their teacher. My youngest one is working on a lemonade stand with her friends, and she has become the group financial advisor for that project. It's really nice to see her and the girls empowered with economic literacy at such a young age, this is grade three. They’re able to put their proposal or their plan together, bring it together and serve other students and set an example. As for my son, who was in grade five, he became a kindness monitor. That has been absolutely wonderful because they put on a giant presentation and shared inspiration for acts of kindness with other members of the student body. I was lucky enough to be here on the day that they presented, and you know, the crowd went crazy. They did all kinds of comedy skits and everything else. He's just really proud of the fact that he can inculcate kindness throughout his duties during the day from being a kindness monitor.
Q. Do you have any feedback about our OWIS teachers?
A. The teachers in primary have been unbelievably caring and open, and they definitely concentrate on the academic elements, but they also nurture the children's social-emotional growth and offer a lot of support in those ways, and they have been absolutely wonderful. As for secondary, what I would say is that my son in grade nine has a tutor period in the morning, and I found that his instructor, his teacher at that time, is absolutely instrumental and absolutely wonderful in getting him motivated and set for the rest of his classes. He can connect with him anytime. His teacher is very communicative with us for anything that we need. I've been very happy.
Q. What sets OWIS and it’s teaching style apart from other schools that you considered?
A. Well, I have been really impressed with how the school has really fostered 21st-century learning. A big concern for me in moving to Asia, and I'll be very forthright about it was the fact that I was concerned that there would be a lot of rote learning in the school. As someone who has done extensive research in education - that's my field. My concern was that there would be a lot of memorisation and not a lot of practical, on the ground, hands-on learning with practical skills that could be translatable for the kids. But what I found is that especially in primary, and secondary too, that there are projects that are a fantastic mix of practical skill and knowledge and application mixed with the theory, so I couldn't be happier with it.
Q. Are there any particular highlights from your time so far at OWIS?
A. So one of the highlights at OWIS, was when my son, Ajani, who's in grade nine, was able to spend a VIP evening with Michelle Obama. He was selected with a group of four or five other students and a teacher here to meet his role model, Mrs Obama. That was absolutely extraordinary. We couldn't believe it when we received the email saying that he was invited to meet her. And of course, the American community in Singapore was quite supportive and excited that he had that opportunity too because when the Obamas came through, they mostly met with business leaders and other community leaders, all adults. We, as a family, really admire the Obamas’ work with youth leaders and innovation and motivating youth through programmes. So for a young American kid, and not to mention a young Native American kid in Singapore, to have the opportunity to meet the former First Lady, it was absolutely mind-blowing.
Thank you, Natalie, for taking the time to discuss your OWIS experiences with us.
To learn more about what sets OWIS apart from other schools, and find out more about our vibrant school culture, schedule a tour with us.