An International Partnership: Westport and Singapore

Ai+Chin+Tan%2C+Dean+of+Research+Studies+at+Hwa+Chong+Institute%2C+discusses+the+partnership+between+her+school+and+Staples.+

Ellie Gavin

Ai Chin Tan, Dean of Research Studies at Hwa Chong Institute, discusses the partnership between her school and Staples.

Ellie Gavin, Staff Writer

This past week, Staples High School was ranked the seventh best high school in Connecticut by U.S. News and World Report.

Obviously, this was not good enough.

Staples has found yet another new way to improve, this time by enlisting an international ally.

So, on Wednesday, May 1, Staples hosted five administrators and educators from the Hwa Chong Institution, a secondary and pre-university independent school in Singapore.

The Staples Task Force, a group of administrators and teachers who are working to develop the “Westport 2025” initiative for the high school, met with the Hwa Chong representatives to kick off a new partnership between the two schools. Over the days following the meetings, the Singapore educators have observed and will continue to observe Staples classes and have discussions with teachers about how both of the high-performing schools can learn from each other and improve.

Hwa Chong Institute is about the size of a small college, with about 4,000 students ages 12 to 18. As one of the highest-performing schools in its league, Hwa Chong received a $100,000 grant to work with an American high school to mutually better their programs.

“We want to nurture leaders in research, industry and government,” said Dr. Hwee Joo Yeo, deputy principal at Hwa Chong. “It’s about being a global thinker.”

As she presented the mission of her school, as well as its goals for the future, she mentioned that education should be more than academics. “It’s about genuine concern for the whole student,” she said.

Yeo pinpoints social awareness, self-awareness and character development as some of the basic core values that need reinforcement. “It’s more than academics; it’s holistic education.”

Many of the core values mentioned overlap with the mission of “Westport 2025,” with critical thinking skills being at the center of both initiatives.

Trudy Denton, a Staples math teacher and Staples Task Force member, said partnering with Hwa Chong could open up “a world of possibilities” for students.

“Something that they do that we don’t do is their international partnership with other schools,” Denton said.

Some of the schools Hwa Chong is affiliated with are Duke University, Stanford University, Kings College and the University of California, Berkeley. These partnerships allow teachers at both schools to offer their students unique, hands-on opportunities that give them real-world experience while they are still in high school.

Another way those hand-on experiences are offered is through what Hwa Chong calls “sabbaticals,” where, for one week every term, students are encouraged to explore an interest that they have outside of the classroom, whether it’s dance, scientific research or art. “We want to encourage them to develop a passion,” Yeo said.

Although Hwa Chong and Staples High School are half a world apart, 9579 miles to be precise, they are united by common goals: “nurturing confident people, self-directed learners, active contributors and concerned citizens,” Yeo said.