The all-through American International School in Kowloon has a 30-year track record of delivering a college-preparatory education to students from the US and Asia.
Summed up by the opening words of its school song – United by our emblem, for AIS we stand – the American International School (AIS) has a great sense of pride in its country. Here’s a 30-year-old school that offers the American education programme, has the bald eagle in its logo, fields sports teams called The Eagles, and has a large percentage of American teachers. That said, the non-profit AIS is very much an international school. With more than 800 students from over 30 countries, only 13% of students are in fact American; other nationalities include Hong Kong (21%), South Korea (19%), China (13%), and India (12%).
In the school’s own words, it delivers “a robust US college-preparatory academic program”. The elementary, middle, and high schools at AIS follow the US standards-based curriculum including the Common Core State Standards for all grades. Students take SAT tests on campus from Grade 8, and Grade 12 students work towards their Advanced Placement (AP) examinations. Accredited by the US-based Western Association of Schools and Colleges, AIS is most definitely American by name and by nature. What really defines the education at AIS though is its Expected Schoolwide Learning Results (ESLRs) – a set of goals for all students to work towards. Based on these ESLRs, AIS has developed a standards-based curriculum that aims to deliver global citizens, effective communicators, empowered thinkers, and well-rounded individuals.
How do they go about achieving this? Middle School principal Zachary Post explains:
“At AIS, learning extends beyond the classroom. We encourage students to become involved fully in the AIS community by actively participating in our challenging academic curriculum, as well as the many extracurricular activities offered, including after school programmes, athletics, and our Outdoor Education and Leadership Programme (OELP).”
AIS is one of only a very few international schools in Hong Kong to offer the full AP programme, which includes 16 AP subjects and the AP Capstone. All high school students must earn a minimum of 24 Carnegie Credits to graduate with an AIS High School Diploma, and courses are taken in English, maths, science, humanities, visual and performing arts, PE and health, world languages, and computer science and technology. Typically, AIS students also take one or more AP courses while in high school.
The curriculum here has a strong focus on literacy skills, which the school says, “provide the foundations for academic achievement”. All students from early years onwards take part in home reading, library sessions, and a compulsory Summer Reading programme. Maths is also given priority; from Grade 8, students take algebra, pre-calculus, and higher-level mathematics. In terms of languages, Mandarin is compulsory from early years, and high school students can choose to study French or Spanish as well.
The school arts programme includes drama, art, and music. Just one look at AIS’ busy calendar of annual talent shows, assembly performances, art exhibitions, and school productions gives you an idea of its passion for the creative arts. As part of the curriculum, all middle school students learn the basics of guitar, percussion, and keyboards, and high school students can choose to study music technology; extra-curricular activities include the middle school choir, AIS concert band, and jazz band.
AIS embraces e-learning, from its dedicated computer labs and computer pods to its e-library and use of electronic versions of core textbooks. All Grade 4 and 5 students are provided with a Chromebook, and all middle and high school students are required to Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) to school.
Schools within a school
AIS has developed into a schools-within-a-school model. The elementary, middle, and high schools each have their own community of classrooms and facilities, have a dedicated principal, and have very age-specific programmes. In the early years, a Personal and Social Development (PSD) programme runs as part of the curriculum, offering a mix of academic and physical activities such as mini engineers, creative cooking, STEM, hiking, and coding.
Homerooms and advisory classes are an important feature of the middle school curriculum. Students start the day in their homeroom, which is part of a school-wide house system, and attend advisory classes that discuss welfare issues, global citizenship, and university planning. Throughout high school, students then participate in global leadership forums such as Model United Nations and Global Issues Network conferences. In preparation for their university education, students also attend advisory and counselling classes, as well as university fairs.
AIS does see itself as one international school, though. There are plenty of school-wide events to bring students together, from Literacy Week and Celebrate Kindness Week to a monthly free dress day to raise money charity. You can’t overlook the importance of a strong house system either. The three houses – Phoenix, Tigers, and Dragons – feature symbolic creatures of red, white, and blue, to represent the American and international influence on the school.
US standardised tests are taken by all Grade 3 to 12 students, and formal SAT examinations begin in Grade 8. AP exams are not required for university placement, although they can show universities how capable a student is of handling college-level work. In 2016, 92.3% of those taking the Advanced Placement (AP) exams scored a GPA of 3+; considering that anything above 3 is considered a pass mark, this figure is very reassuring. Also, 54 AIS students received AP Scholar Awards from the College Board.
AIS scored higher than the AP global average in most subjects, and exams graded 4.1 or above included calculus, macro-economics, Chinese language, studio art, and psychology. The majority of AIS graduates went on to study at a US university, while smaller numbers were accepted at universities in the UK, Canada, and Hong Kong.
Beyond the class walls
In line with the ESLRs, learning at AIS is not confined to the classroom. AIS students are involved in a wide range of extra-curricular activities, including hip hop dance, golf, tae kwon do, engineering using Lego, chess, and football. There’s also an impressive competitive sports programme; AIS fields its own Eagles teams to compete in the International Schools Sports Federation of Hong Kong (ISSFHK) league in sports including football, volleyball, basketball, cross country, badminton, and track and field. Although the school day officially runs from 8am to 3pm, the AIS campus is buzzing with activity until late afternoon with its many sports and club activities.
For many, the highlight of the school year is Adventure Week, when all lessons are put on hold and students take part in charitable activities and overseas trips. As part of AIS’ Outdoor Education and Leadership Programme (OELP), high school students have been fortunate enough to help develop school playgrounds in villages across Vietnam, paint classrooms in Tanzania, and decorate homes for widows in Fiji. Younger students attend activity days, day camps, and week-long residential camps. It’s a very well-planned, well-executed programme that offers children an opportunity to learn in the ‘real world’.
The signature red-bricked campus of AIS is located on Waterloo Road, at the heart of the prestigious Kowloon Tong neighbourhood. Since opening in 1986 it has moved with the times; a new elementary building was built in 2011, the middle school campus was refurbished in 2012, and a new early childhood centre opened in 2013. Some of its newer facilities include two fully-equipped science labs, Mac computer labs, an all-weather basketball court, and a 25m outdoor pool.
Admission and fees
AIS is a selective school and all students must sit an entrance test. AIS has a rolling admissions policy throughout the school year.
The good news is that fees at AIS are among the cheapest for an international school in Hong Kong. Tuition fees for 2019 range from HKD 129,200 – 152,600. The school's non-refundable Annual Capital Levy is comparatively low at HKD 12,000 for first child, then HKD 8,000 for second child, and HKD 6,000 for each additional child.
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