Since opening its doors in Tai Po in 2016, American School Hong Kong (ASHK) has been delivering a US-based education to elementary students, along with a strong focus on STEAM and Chinese language learning.
While ASHK is very much in its infancy, it has already established itself as a forward-thinking school that focuses on innovation as part of its STEAM programme. Its holistic education also includes a rigorous daily Chinese language programme and a wide offering of extra-curricular activities.
ASHK is one of only a few schools in the New Territories to follow the US Common Core framework, and it has plans to launch the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme in the future. Its inquiry-based approach to learning is enriched by a focus on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics). School director John Jalsevac – a Canadian with over 30 years of education experience in Hong Kong and abroad – sums up an education at ASHK as:
“…characterised by its rigor, holistic approach, inspirational nature, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art & mathematics) focus, and US Common Core and International Baccalaureate (IB).”
ASHK is Esol Education’s flagship school in South East Asia; the Dubai-based Esol group has a portfolio of nine international American schools and has a strong track record of graduates attending universities including Stanford, Yale, Columbia, and the London School of Economics. ASHK currently has around 230 students, and at full capacity it will accommodate 950 students. At the start of the 2018-19 year, there were three KG2 classes, and three classes at Grade 1, three at Grade 2, and one class each in Grades 3 to 8. Class sizes are average for Hong Kong, and range from 18 in KG to 22 in Grade 2 and 24 in all higher grades.
ASHK is very much an American-style school; the majority of teachers come from the US, followed by Canada, and teaching is heavily influenced by American methods including Common Core, MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) testing, Next Generation Science Standards, Columbia University’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, and SHAPE America (Society of Health and Physical Educators). The academic year runs from August to June and follows the US two semester system.
The school does give the US curriculum an international slant, though, as it offers a strong Chinese language programme and options to study French and Spanish. The school clearly has broad appeal as it has an international population representing 18 different nationalities; around 15% of students are from the US and the Education Bureau limits the intake of Hong Kong nationals to 15%.
A US education
An education at ASHK starts in KG2, where learning is focused on “play, exploration and discovery” and lessons move between indoors and outdoors to help stimulate young learners.
Students then progress up to the elementary school for Grades 1 to 8, where teachers follow a US standards-based curriculum based on the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Common Core is a popular US framework for curriculum consistency across grades K – 12, and usually means that we can expect a strong focus on the arts, language, maths, science, PE, and social studies. NGSS has become widespread in American classrooms, and changes the emphasis in science education to how scientists work.
There’s a strong focus on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics), which is known for encouraging critical thinking and a practical, hands-on approach to learning. Also, the school champions a love of reading by adopting various ideas of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, such as classroom libraries for each grade level.
The core subjects (maths, English, science, social studies, and STEAM) are taught by homeroom teachers, and there are specialist lessons in Mandarin, music, visual arts, and PE. There’s a strong Chinese language programme at ASHK that offers both traditional and simplified Chinese writing options, and all students have a daily Mandarin lesson; in the middle and high schools, students are grouped according to ability.
Teachers use learning resources taken from government schools but add elements of STEAM to their classes to help students learn. Parents can choose between simplified and traditional Chinese in the lower two pathways, and only traditional characters in the advanced pathway.
The school says: “In this level, the students' Chinese is very strong and they don’t need to practise their speaking and listening anymore. We want these children the language every day in the city."
Students are tested using external exams such as MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) so student progress can be benchmarked against global averages. ASHK introduced Grade 8 in August 2018.
During this first year of middle school, the standards-based curriculum continues to follow the STEAM approach and students have the option of studying French and Spanish. As the school matures, it will open a high school and offer its senior students the choice of studying for their US High School Diploma or the IBDP.
Technology features strongly across the curriculum, and the school is well-equipped with computers, iPads, mobile devices, and smart screens. A 1:1 policy is introduced earlier than in most international schools; all students in Grades 1 – 3 are required to bring an iPad to school, and students in Grades 4 – 7 must have their own MacBook.
Full STEAM ahead
STEM has become a staple in many curriculums within Hong Kong’s international schools, but ASHK has thrown art into the mix too. So, as well as developing rigorous math and science skills through engineering, students also look at aspects such as product design, communication, and social studies and history.
All STEAM lessons are based on the Next Generation Science Standards and use the 5E Model (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate) along with the Engineering Design Process (Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, and Improve). Put simply, this is a very hands-on approach to teaching that involves students constructing models, testing designs, recording data, and developing hypotheses. The school says that its STEAM approach fosters innovation by “combining the mind of a scientist with that of an artist or designer”.
Beyond the classroom
There’s plenty of talk on the school website about holistic education, leadership skills, and developing active learners. It’s still early days, but we can see the beginnings of an inspirational programme of extra-curricular activities. ASHK currently offers ECAS covering sport, performance and visual arts, science and technology, academia, and general interest such as chess and Brownies. Elementary students can compete in events such as Battle of the Books, contribute to a school weekly podcast, and work on the school yearbook, The Torch. Most activities are offered by the school and are free of charge.
ASHK is already taking part in initiatives such as the Model United Nations. As the school grows, there are plans to elect a student council, launch a school newspaper, compete in events such as World Scholars Cup, and field teams in tournaments run by the International School Sports Federation of Hong Kong (ISSFHK).
The school tries to engage students in service learning in various ways. Within the school community they can be an usher, digital ambassador, score-keeper, lunch monitor, and ‘buddy’ for new students; in the wider community, they can volunteer in hospitals, homes for the elderly, orphanages, or rural schools.
Sport is an important part of the ASHK curriculum, and PE lessons are aligned with SHAPE America’s national standards. Looking to the future again, there are plans to field U12 to U20 teams with the ISSFHK; offer soccer, cross country, volleyball, basketball, badminton, swimming, track and field, rugby, tennis, and golf; and launch an intramural programme for all grades that is “less-structured and competitive”. It’s great to see a school that encourages students of all abilities to get involved in sport, and focus on playing rather winning.
Students are also encouraged to join after-school ensembles and perform on stage; as the school expands, it will increase its offering of choirs, bands, and student productions.
ASHK opened in 2016 following the HKD 140 million renovation of an existing school in Tai Po. Esol has transformed this site into a modern campus with a seven-storey building that’s home to classrooms, sciences labs, specialist rooms for music, art, and drama, a gymnasium, outdoor sports facilities (the existing basketball court is about to be renovated as a turf football pitch), and a library learning centre that’s described by students as “the place to be”.
Admission and fees
Annual tuition fees at ASHK are only just above the Hong Kong average for international schools, and are HKD 141,500 for KG2, HKD 163,500 for Grades 1 to 6, and HKD 182,000 for Grades 7 to 8. There is an annual capital levy of HKD 20,000 per child.
ASHK offers scholarships to all elementary and middle school students, and these are either merit-based, means-tested, or offered to under-represented students.
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