One of the reasons I like Shannon’s preschool is how the kids know the names of all the adults in the school, even the non-teaching staff. They cheerfully greet Aunty Teoh, the cook, whose food they love; Aunty Eileen, the cleaner who has recently left, whom we would sometimes offer a ride home; and Uncle Jaffar, the gardener, who tends to the beautiful greenery and compound the children enjoy daily. The joy on the faces of these non-teaching staff when the children call out to them, is unmistakeable. Two years ago, Jason, the foodie, urged me to recreate Aunty Teoh’s long bean fried rice at home, and she generously gave me a quick lesson on the recipe.
I had presumed such close-knit relations could only be found in a small preschool whose total enrolment numbers less than 80? So I was pleasantly surprised this morning when I was at MOE’s Excel Festival – an event to showcase innovative practices in schools – and I saw what Swiss Cottage Secondary had done. Here are some pictures of their combined efforts:
A close-up in case the words are too small:
As part of Values-in-Action, a programme to teach values, the Sec 1 students had given handwritten notes to the non-teaching staff in the school, in the process getting to know them by name. As student Lim Jia Jia told me, the cleaner or canteen vendors are no longer a generic aunty or uncle. They can now put a name to the face of the support staff who has been helping them or selling them food. I wish I could see the reactions of these aunties and uncles when presented with these notes! This is but a small way for the children to appreciate and thank people who have helped them but something that I feel is so often taken for granted today.
Taking a picture with Jia Jia, the student who shared with me.
A group photo with the other Compass members, students and Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.
I attended the event as a Compass member. Compass stands for Community and Parents in Support of Schools, which is basically an advisory council to the Education Ministry. I joined as a media representative last year and even though I’ve left ST, MOE has asked that I stay on until the end of my two-year term. One of the reasons I’m thankful to have joined Compass is how much I’ve learnt from the Parent Support Group(PSG) parent volunteers I’ve met. I find myself constantly humbled and impressed by the enthusiasm and passion of the parent volunteers. When I had a full time job, I’ve always felt I was far too busy to be a parent volunteer. And then I met father of two, Edwin Cheng, 44, who works in the hotel line, who is in not one, not two, but THREE PSGs! He remains in the PSG of Ai Tong school even though his children have long graduated from the school. As his kids are in two different secondary schools, he has joined the PSGs of both their schools! I asked him why, and he said simply that it is one way of paying back all that his children have gained from the schools; it helps that the other volunteers have become his friends; and his kids are proud of him for being in the PSGs. Wow.
Happening alongside the Excel Festival was the inaugural PSG Conference, a collaboration between PSG members, COMPASS and MOE.
The most impressive thing was that the event was organised by the parent volunteers, many of whom have day jobs, several kids to tend to and a household to run. Among the sharing sessions, two touched me the most. One was from a Primary 5 pupil from South View Primary, Caitlin Khoo, who spoke about how proud she was of her dad, Mr Khoo Kar Tiong, because he volunteered at her school. She spoke about how touched she was to find out he was in a mascot costume for a school event – he perspires easily and yet still did the job for the kids.
Caitlin on stage.
The second session was from fellow Compass member Jason Wong, the founder of the Dads for Life movement and Yellow Ribbon Project, who told the audience about his journey to becoming a PV.
Jason, too, was a busy working dad who said he had no time when he was approached by his child’s primary school. He was eventually persuaded by the school’s PSG chairman and principal to join. He has since gone on to encourage hundreds more dads to volunteer. He worked with the school to produce this video some seven years ago. It’s a must-watch. Especially for fathers. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=asmoRl4gxLo
And here is a final group shot before I rushed off to spend the weekend with my family.