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Life, laughter and learning: Founding parents' Huili experience

27 Feb 2019

Given that the new Year of the Pig has begun, it is the ideal time to look back at everything we have accomplished together since Huili first opened in September 2018. To help put the first five months of Huili’s history into perspective, we asked three of its founding year parents – Ronnie Ruan, Teresa Zhu and Fiona Wang – to share their thoughts and experiences, as well as those of their children.

Ronnie, Fiona and Teresa

First Impressions What made you want to send your child to Huili? Ronnie: My daughter attended the old Wellington nursery for two years, so we were already very familiar with the Huili culture and educational philosophy. Their way of teaching encourages children to be confident and independent, which helping them become a globally-minded person by exposing them to many different ways of thinking and learning. We felt strongly that we wanted our daughter to carry on learning in this way. Another important reason for choosing Huili was its emphasis on combining the best of Chinese and Western educational styles, something that I feel they have managed to achieve very successfully.

Fiona: My son was educated at a public school for five years, which gave him a good foundation in many important things. However, we felt it was time to introduce him to a more global way of thinking, through attending a bilingual school. We wanted to prepare him as much as possible to thrive by developing a global view. After discovering Huili’s vision to create a caring bilingual community that develops well-rounded individuals with strong values and equally strong abilities, I knew we had chosen the right school.

Teresa: I used to study in the UK, so I was already familiar with many of the strengths inherent in Western education systems. I wanted my daughter to access these strengths without losing her understanding and appreciation of Chinese education and culture. It is no longer enough to focus purely on academic success; I want my daughter to grow up to be whole person, full of life, interests and passions as well as knowledge. I want her to enjoy a rich and meaningful life. I think that the school’s holistic education style, the central importance of the Huili Identity and Values, will help give her the tools to have this kind of life. A lot of schools talk convincingly about their philosophy and values but sometimes they are only skin-deep, they are often just words on a wall. That is not the case here. Every staff member clearly believes in what they are teaching – this is something I felt was true early on and the past five months have proved it to be the case. How has your child adapted to Huili during its opening months? Have they settled into the school quickly? Are they now acclimatised to Huili’s setup and routines? Teresa: Every day my daughter comes home feeling happy and talks excitedly about her day. This is the most important thing for me as a parent, to know that she is happy and secure at school as well as at home. She is always talking about how much she likes and admires her classmates and teachers. I once asked her how long it took for her to like her new school and she said that she knew she liked it within just a few minutes of being here! Ronnie: My daughter settled into Huili very quickly and comfortably. She was reunited with many of her classmates from the old nursery, which helped the transition. Another big help was the excellent communication between Huili’s staff and us parents and our children. They were incredibly helpful and informative when we were all preparing for the big change to the new school. They let us know what we could expect in terms of the curriculum, the resources on offer, how the classes would work – every practical consideration you could think of. This had the lovely effect of making my daughter feel very comfortable early on because lots of things were familiar to her, but at same time she was excited about all the new things to explore at the ‘big school’, such as the much bigger library, the swimming pool, science labs and so on.

Fiona: My son is getting used to new environments and he really likes the ‘big family feel’ of Huili. There are changes from the public school, where he was used to a much stricter environment. Perhaps the biggest change has been adapting to a much more creative and critical thinking style, something his teachers have really helped him achieve. For example, his homework questions are much more openminded and they make him consider his own thoughts and opinions. The Huili style of learning has helped him understand how to conduct research, find and display evidence, structure his thoughts and write convincingly about his own point of view. It took about a month to switch over to this way of thinking but he loves every day of school and is always excited to learn more. Exploring new horizons Has your child engaged in any new activities – such as sports, arts, other pursuits – that they have particularly enjoyed exploring?

Ronnie: My daughter has been exploring music a lot since she started attending Huili. She even joined the Chinese ensemble as an exceptional grade 1 pupil, when usually the youngest members are in grade 3. This has been a wonderful experience for her because she has explored many different instruments while also getting used to making music together with other children. This has really helped her gain confidence and courage as part of the process. Huili does a great job of discovering every pupil’s talents and providing the right platform for them to show it. My original intention was to let my daughter play instruments mostly to cultivate her musical tastes, but Huili has given her the opportunity to fully showcase her talent bravely and confidently, something which goes above and beyond our expectations. Fiona: I was pleasantly surprised at just how many options pupils have at Huili to explore new things. The CCA programme is a big part of that, as there were 69 CCA options last term, and 75 this term. My son has very much enjoyed the ‘Model UN’ CCA, and wants to keep participating in it to improve his debating and public speaking skills. Similarly, it was a huge surprise to see him signing up to act and sing in the upcoming school musical. I never thought he would want to do this; his teacher must have used magic to successfully bring out this new attitude in him!

 Teresa: My daughter was particularly excited to start exploring drama and musical activities this year. She particularly enjoyed being part of the Winter Showcase and is looking forward immensely to being part of Seussical the Musical later this year. During the Winter Showcase, she was involved with the production team as well as being on stage. It was great for her to see how a whole production comes together and to see that everyone has their part to play. Building the Huili Community Do you think that there is a strong sense of community at Huili? If so, have you enjoyed any specific events where the community has come together? Fiona: The Huili community has come together quickly and we all felt part of a team or a family very early on. Setting up the Friends of Huili (FoH) and House Representative organisations helped us forge links between the school and families. Also there were so many parent-oriented workshops early on, with a fantastic attendance rate of more than 90%. This shows that everyone is committed to working together to make Huili as good as it can possibly be. It was a very special moment to see our community’s beautiful Christmas tree being put up in the lobby and when faculty members, pupils and parents all gathered around it for the lighting ceremony it was a truly warm and important moment for us all.

Teresa: There is definitely a strong community spirit at Huili already. The staff genuinely care about our thoughts, ideas and opinions and I have always felt like there is an open door policy which applies to everyone. They care about bringing everyone together, sharing both our Chinese and international cultures and making everyone feel equally welcome and valued. Ronnie: The recent Winter Bazaar was a perfect example of Huili’s community coming together to create something wonderful. Everyone pitched in to make it happen within a relatively short space of time and it proved to be an amazing success. There were over 100 stalls as well as plenty of entertainments, performances and lots more, so a lot of time, resources and effort was invested by everyone involved. This event, as well as lots of moments throughout the term, showed me that this school is full of people who want to come together and celebrate what we are doing here.

Looking back, looking aheadHow has the first term at Huili met with your expectations of the school? What are you hoping to see at Huili in the future? Teresa: Huili has lived up to my expectations and more. I would say that the most important thing the school has achieved is delivering on its promise to make the Huili Values mean more than just something written on a page. It is clear its staff believe in these values, and that they want our children to understand and embrace them too. I am looking forward to seeing what we can achieve next as a community. Ronnie: It has been a fantastic first term with a lot of surprises and happy moments for myself and my daughter. In the future I hope to see Huili forge more links with other schools in the Shanghai area, through sports and the arts as well as other opportunities for children of different schools to come together and share their talents as well as learn from each other. Fiona: I am very happy with what Huili has given my son already and I am excited to see what he will achieve next under their guidance. I am looking forward to seeing the children enjoy the new facilities in the next construction phase. The new theatre will be the heart of the school, a formal space for pupils to present arts, performance and public speaking!