One Year On: Stamford American School, Hong Kong

More than 600 students walked through the gates of Stamford American School, Hong Kong for its second academic year since opening in 2017. WhichSchoolAdvisor speaks to head of school Karrie Dietz about the school’s commitment to innovation, global awareness and the Cognita family.
One Year On: Stamford American School, Hong Kong
By Carli Allan
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Stamford American School, Hong Kong opened in September 2017 with a goal to create an "inspiring world of education." It’s a vision that is strongly supported by a broad and balanced curriculum focused on personalised learning. A variety of specialist programmes and CCAs allow children to find their talents and graduate ready for life beyond Stamford's doors, whether they are passionate about STEMInn (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and innovation), the arts, modern languages, or have yet to find their niche and find guidance from the Global Mentor programme.

Born and raised in the United States, head of school Karrie Dietz has 24 years' experience in education, the majority of which have been in Asia, and brings to her role an international mindset. Dietz, who was previously the principal at Stamford’s sister school in Singapore – Stamford American International School (SAIS) – took on the challenge of opening one of Hong Kong’s newest schools 12 months ago. Here she talks about what the school has achieved in its first year, and how it will eventually develop into a full-train school offering the IB DP.

Stamford is the first and only school in Hong Kong to offer a STEMInn (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and innovation) programme. How does this differ from STEM and STEAM, and why have you taken this route?

As technology develops and the job market changes, education must also evolve to ensure that we are preparing our children for tomorrow’s world. The picture of tomorrow’s world is hard to imagine due to the rapid changes we have seen over the past decades. These changes have given rise to a shift in education from a more knowledge-based system to a skills-based focus. Some of these skills include our higher-order thinking skills; these are at the top of Bloom’s famous taxonomy model which include analysing, evaluating and then, at the very top, creating.

To help develop these critical skills, Stamford has chosen to add one crucial part to the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education and that is innovation; which is collectively known as STEMInn at Stamford. By design, STEM education is meant to allow students to develop their critical thinking and analytical abilities by presenting them with ideas and problems across disciplines to draw upon a variety of skills. Stamford, however, wants to inspire and challenge students to be innovators.

How have you rolled out the STEMInn programme so far, and what are your plans for the future?

To ensure all students develop the necessary foundational skills from pre-primary to graduation, STEMInn education at Stamford introduces students to the latest in VR, coding, 3D printing and a wide variety of apps on their iPads (elementary) or Macs (middle school). This programme keeps students engaged while ensuring that technology is used to support learning appropriately, in conjunction with the traditional core subjects and world language programs.

The overall goal of STEMInn education is not only about using the latest technology in teaching but also to inspire and encourage students to apply innovative thinking, which is vital for the ever-changing world. This links together with the Global Mentor programme to expose them to a multitude of options for their future and is supported by all the other areas of the teaching at Stamford. To foster curiosity and develop innovative projects, we are currently planning a Space Week as part of our STEMInn programme – so watch this space!

The Global Mentor Programme has been running successful at your sister school (Stamford American International School) in Singapore for several years. How is this being implemented at Stamford to raise global awareness?

Global Mentor is a highly respected programme where we invite inspirational minds, industry leaders, artists and athletes to engage with our students. We want to open our students’ minds, broaden their horizons and help them find their passion or interests.

In the first year of Stamford, the Global Mentor programme was developed to give our students the opportunities to be inspired by passionate people in a variety of fields. We know that sometimes inspiration comes from experiences outside the classroom. A range of different mentors who have achieved great things in their own lives allows our students not only to be inspired but also to see that dreams can become realities. They can hear the life story and understand the journey that it took to reach those dreams.

We know that to achieve greatness takes hard work and sacrifice, so it is vital for our students to learn about this. Too often in today’s media, they may hear about the final result only and not the process.

Students have been learning from the pros, with basketball clinics by James Scott, Shanghai Shark’s Performance Coach, and creative workshops with the children’s author Sarah Brennan. Who else has featured on your Global Mentors list so far?

Our Global Mentors so far have included Cesar Jung-Harada, the innovator, environmentalist and entrepreneur, TEDex speaker and founder of MakerBay; who focuses on solving human-made environmental issues such as oil spills, ocean plastic, and radioactivity. He worked with our students on a boat-building project, which started with a visit to the Volvo Ocean Race followed by designing, creating, building and testing.

Also, Bay McLaughlin, co-founder, and chief operating officer of Brinc, spoke to our students about his own experience in the tech industry but also what is happening beyond the classroom. He told our students that learning the right skills and having the right environment, at school and home, is essential to make full use of new technology every day.

As principal at SAIS, you experienced the growth of the school up to 3,000 students – and witnessed it become one of the most popular international schools in Singapore. How are you replicating this successful model in Hong Kong?

The Singapore campus is a young, fast-growing school. Being a part of that growth and success was inspiring. It assisted in my understanding of effective, successful practices that could be replicated and provided in a fast-growing school.

During our first year at Stamford Hong Kong, approximately one-third of our teachers transferred from SAIS; they have been especially useful in developing curricula, programmes, and leading initiatives. We continue relationships with faculty and staff at the Singapore campus, and ideas and share resources between a variety of departments. For example, ICT facilitators from both schools share how new technologies are being used to support learning.

Stamford is owned by the global schools’ groups Cognita, which has recently been acquired by Jacobs Holding. How does the Hong Kong campus work with this family of schools across Asia, Europe and South America?

There is a strong commitment to being a member of the Cognita family. Our faculty initiated ideas to bring Cognita schools around the world together, such as using #Cognitaway on Twitter to share happenings and ideas for teaching and learning and hosting ‘Cognita Calling’ Skypeathons for classes to collaborate. During the Skypeathons, children learn about each other and their cultures and teach each other too. For example, lower elementary Stamford students taught other Cognita students how to create shadow puppet shows.

In another example of bringing schools together, Stamford Hong Kong’s music teacher composed a ‘Light Up Learning’ song for students to perform and share virtually during a Cognita-wide solar buddy community project.

Stamford currently enrolls students from KG through to Grade 8, and there are plans to roll out an extra grade every year until Grade 12. Apart from increasing student numbers, what were Stamford’s key achievements during its first year?

We have had many achievements to celebrate! The first would be creating a ‘happy, caring, innovative’ community. We focused on creating a caring, positive culture and these are the three words used most frequently by our parents in a survey to describe Stamford. They said that children love to come to school, and this is important to us!

Another achievement is the collaborative team we have created, which has a supportive, flexible, and ‘can-do’ attitude. There is a sense of pride and accomplishment here that we will continue to build on. Academic growth is another achievement. Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessments indicate our students are exceeding their predicted growth targets in math, literacy, and science.

How do you feel the private education sector has changed in recent years in Hong Kong – and how does Stamford fit in?

The international schooling sector has indeed changed over the last 10 years in Hong Kong. Parents are ever more focused on quality teaching and learning. In particular, parents are looking for an international education that offers continuous assessment and an inquiry-based approach, which is what Stamford provides. Also, parents will often do their research and ask current families about a school. They are more aware now that each international school is different, and they want to understand more about the quality of teaching before applying.

And finally, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I enjoy hiking with my husband; there are many amazing trails and opportunities for exploring the outdoors in Hong Kong. We recently completed the 100km MacLahose Trail. I also spend time running, and my husband and I enjoy long-distance bicycle rides. Many of our faculty and staff are quite active too, and Stamford has been represented at many community runs.

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