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By Nikki Park

As part of the Esol Education community that stretches across the globe, American School Hong Kong is heading into town. The school already has a strong presence in Dubai and the new location will allow it to expand its capacity and offer an accredited American education to students in Hong Kong. The spacious new campus, located in Tai Po in the New Territories, is now under full-scale renovation and is expected to open in September, 2016.

Dr Ray Taylor, the chief education consultant for the American School Hong Kong (ASHK), is thrilled about the new opportunity. “We characterize the school here as being somewhat different from our other American schools. We know that we are coming into an educationally vibrant city. This city has an outstanding reputation for hosting many excellent schools and educators. Esol Education is delighted to be opening a school in Hong Kong that will help us to expand our reputation in the Middle East and Europe into a new and exciting educational environment.”

Holistic approach

ASHK aims to provide an American education with strengths in the holistic development of students. The entire curriculum places emphasis on nurturing an individual’s academic, cultural and personal identity so that he or she understands how to learn in different contexts and apply the lessons learned about character throughout life. In achieving this goal, the school insists it is imperative for students to discover and understand conceptual connections in their learning.

“Our teachers will spend a lot of time talking about conceptual learning, not just learning content or remembering facts accumulated as knowledge,” Taylor says. “Knowledge is, for sure, important but once you understand the conceptual underpinnings of knowledge and link those concepts, you arrive at a much deeper level of understanding. If you observe our pedagogy, teachers are asking questions that oblige students to think conceptually. Questions should not just be about what you know, but rather what you do with what you know.”

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Dr Ray Taylor, the chief education consultant for the American School Hong Kong (ASHK)

Supporting such conceptual learning is the US Common Core Curriculum, the school has adopted, which provides a robust content and skills foundation upon which a conceptually based curriculum has been designed. The pedagogy to be implemented emphasizes the skills, attitudes and knowledge needed by students to be a part of an increasingly global society.

The ASHK curriculum will include a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) focus that provides each student with life-long learning competencies across a range of disciplines and expands literacy and numeracy into the five domains of STEAM. The school aims to build the curriculum around students and carefully shape the types of cognition and cognitive activities that it wants students engaged with. The problem-solving, performance- based assessments and the learning built around major and minor disciplinary concepts defines one of the strengths of this educationally strategic vision.

“If you look at the successful careers out there today, they tend to be in the domains of technology, engineering and the arts. It is not an accident that among most well known people on the planet are those creative designers and innovators who have really led the way. We believe the STEAM dimension of our education adds something special that few of the other schools have done yet.”

Global citizenship

ASHK’s solid American education will provide students with American models of instruction, school culture and organization. But Taylor points out that at the same time the school will be inclusive of Hong Kong’s rich regional context with an international perspective. All nationalities and languages are welcomed. International outreach and extracurricular activities will be included in the learning to embrace diversity and expose students to a spectrum of cultures, understanding “we are defined by diversity not divided by it.”

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Within this community where students can reach out locally, regionally and globally, ASHK aims to develop responsible global citizens. “It’s one thing to say but it is another thing to do it,” Taylor says. International mindedness permeates every subject and underpins discussion, action and relationships. What distinguishes ASHK is how students achieve openness to diversity through real-life experiences.

The academic curriculum will promote students’ concern for world affairs and intercultural understanding. The importance of these experiences is seen in the various service and leadership trips that students can initiate. ASHK students will have a wide array of opportunities to be actively and closely involved with the local community as well as with other regional and far-reaching communities where residents are not as fortunate as they are. After living and/or working in other communities students come back to share their life-changing experiences. These presentations are invariably emotional, and intensely engaging as individuals personalize their experiences. “They come back changed with a different perspective. They understand how privileged they are and they understand how important it is to give back to the community.”

Other than service trips, ASHK will purposefully place students in situations where they must exercise international- mindedness and collaborate in problem solving in real world contexts.

“We provide students with opportunities to explore the areas that they haven’t even considered before. We will challenge them by taking them out of their comfort zone so that they get to discover more about themselves and others,” Taylor stresses.

Another important opportunity ASHK students can benefit from is the richness of the Esol network. As part of Esol Education’s global family of nine top-tier international schools with more than 11,000 students worldwide, ASHK facilitates cultural and education field trips between different schools that operate independently. Students will be given opportunities to interact with and host visitors from these sister schools and experience things that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to share.

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Providing structure

The school will first open for Kindergarten through Grade Six, basing its curriculum on the US Common Core. It will then expand to a full-scale K-12 school, providing the International Baccalaureate program in Grades 11 and 12 as well as ensuring all students earn the American High School Diploma.

While ASHK’s elementary education focuses on building a strong foundation for the future, the entire middle and high school curriculum shift to another level.

“Adolescence is a search for structure,” Taylor sums up. “These kids are so energetic and full of enthusiasms but often their ideas do not tie together and it is our responsibility to provide them with some structures so the ideas can start to piece together. It is about building the constructs of understanding.”

“Academic learning is about making meaning by connecting concepts to create deeper levels of understanding.” Students will investigate international literature, cultures, geography and history. Courses such as International Relations and World Politics will be offered to further foster global citizenship while core values – academic rigor, responsibility and civic mindedness – are embedded in the students’ daily interactions with teachers and peers and reflections on their learning.

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A rigorous academic and college preparatory program will define the learning and achievement agenda. ASHK will also provide a thriving co-curricular program with a multitude of opportunities for students in athletics, the arts and community service. To ensure graduates from ASHK attend leading universities around the world, academic and college counseling will be provided.

“We are passionate about what we do as educators. What inspires us to do what we do is the fact that we help to change lives in a positive way. We are passionate about the ways that we can change emotions and thinking. We change the way people think, we change the way people feel and we give them an understanding of themselves and others. We are proud to provide our graduates with a place to stand where they feel confident about who they are, how they are, and how they interact with others,” Taylor says.