Meet The Head At ASHK, John Jalsevac

As American School Hong Kong (ASHK) enters its third year, speaks to head of school John Jalsevac about how the school is combining strong Chinese and STEAM programmes with a focus on specialist teaching to grow one of Hong Kong's newest schools.
Meet The Head At ASHK, John Jalsevac
By Carli Allan
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There’s a shortage of American-style schools in Hong Kong, which makes American School Hong Kong (ASHK) a welcome option for parents looking for a US education. Here’s a school that teaches the Common Core and Advanced Placement programmes, assesses students using MAP testing, and adopts the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

But ASHK’s challenging curriculum is as international as it is American. Opened in 2016, ASHK offers a daily Chinese programme with multiple streams and a strong focus on STEAM. Parents with children on the long waiting lists at many of Hong Kong’s top tier schools may also welcome news that places are still available here, from KG through to Grade 8. There are several scholarships offered too.

Head of school John Jalsevac, who previously worked as upper school principal at the Canadian International School Hong Kong (CDNIS), has fully embraced the challenge of founding a new school – and his goal is to develop a “best fit formula where every student in the graduating class is deserving of the best opportunity they can get”. As ASHK settles into its third academic, spoke to Mr Jalsevac about how this new school is putting down roots in Hong Kong’s increasingly competitive international schools market.

Read our review of ASHK here.

ASHK, which is Dubai-based Esol Education’s first school in East Asia, has reported a “slow but steady growth” in enrolment. You currently have 230 students in KG through to Grade 8, and the capacity for 950 once you roll out Grades 9-12. Are you happy with how the school has grown in its first two years?

When we first started, ASHK was just a block of clay and the vision was that we could mould it and shape it into anything we wanted to. It was exciting but daunting. It was also difficult because you don’t have established policies to fall back on. We’re not reinventing the wheel here, but it’s so nice as we enter our third year to see some institutional memory, some support from parents, and tradition setting in. We’re starting to see this block of clay take shape, and a sculpture emerge.

We have three kindergarten classes, three Grade 1, three Grade 2, and then Grades 3-8. There’s lots of growth in a pyramid form, which is a nice way to start. We’re a small school that’s growing; for example, we’ve established a Model United Nations, held a national history day competition, expanded the Week Without Walls, and so on. We’re happy to see such establishment taking place.

How have you created the ideal setting to deliver your “engaging and academically challenging programme”?

We want to have a positive and enjoyable atmosphere – not because it makes people feel good, but because the research says that academic performance is better. There’s a very close relationship between atmosphere and how you grow academically.

Your children spend more of their waking hours with their teachers than they do with you. The term in loco parentis is of critical importance, and a parent should have confidence that a teacher is acting as a good person would in the absence of a parent.

One of ASHK’s distinguishing features is the daily Chinese programme for students of all abilities. Why do you feel it’s so important to offer this?

Some international schools can be seen as having a lack of interest in second language learning or a soft Chinese programme. That could be because, for some time, there was a higher number of expats in the schools than there were ethnic Chinese. That is changing now, and we feel that we need to provide a really strong Chinese programme.

I think what international schools will see in the next five to 10 years will be fewer Western expat students and more families coming from mainland China who are looking for an international education. Some of that will focus on language and comprehension, and some of that will focus on global understanding and international mindedness.

How have you developed the Chinese studies programme at ASHK?

Our head of Chinese, Flora Hui, is such a strong ambassador for the school. She understands what our parents want and expect, and she is able to deliver a strong programme on the back of that.

Our team takes a very Western, engaging and fun approach to teaching and learning that inspires children. Far too often, learning a second language becomes boring and the children tune out. It doesn’t happen here because we follow such a creative approach to teaching.

As well Chinese, ASHK offers a well-rounded curriculum that includes the arts, PE and STEAM. How are you delivering these specialist subjects?

There are eight periods a day and five days a week in the timetable. Out of those 40 periods, specialist teachers teach five Chinese, three PE, two music, two art and one library session every week. We really dedicate resources to those specialist subjects, and all our students go to a specialist class that is equipped for the delivery of that particular subject.

STEAM at ASHK offers an integrated approach to teaching science, technology, engineering, the arts and maths. It guides inquiry, guides collaboration and enables students to think at a higher level. We still teach maths, science etc, and we don't do STEAM all the time, but there’s a significant amount of time spent putting these subjects together in STEAM lessons. We have also launched an MIT App Inventor programme for our middle school students. 

Over the next few years you will open up Grades 9-12. What curriculum will you be offering to your high school students?

When our children move into high school, we will have the IB Diploma Programme in place. The research says that IB provides children with an advanced set of skills that allows them to perform well at university, in postgraduate work, and in the world of work. I personally believe that the IBDP is the best university prep programme, in large part because there’s a liberal arts foundation to it. The IB programme is so comprehensive, and offers so much more scope for learning, and opens more doors for children in years to come. By comparison, AP is really just an exam to give you an advance standing.

As well as still having places available for the next academic year, ASHK offers several sponsorships to “help create a balanced school community”. Is this oversubscribed?

We typically have fewer students apply than we have scholarships. We’re required by the Education Bureau to allocate 2% of our revenue to scholarships, and we just don’t get enough people apply. I want families to know that the scholarships are not just there for rocket scientists, although we do have some exceptional students here who are scholars. It’s also for children who are strong in music or dance or may have written a great story that was published in the media. If you think your child may be a candidate, then we encourage you to apply.

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