Hong Kong International School offers an American-style primary education that is grounded in the Christian faith. This large and well-established school has a 50-year history in Hong Kong, a brand new lower primary campus, and plenty of community spirit.
Hong Kong International School (HKIS) recently celebrated its milestone 50th anniversary with the opening of a renovated primary school. Look beyond the glitzy new facilities, though, and you’ll see a well-established school that follows an American-styled curriculum grounded in the Christian faith.
HKIS has two campuses on the southern side of Hong Kong Island, with a total of more than 2,600 students from Reception 1 through to Grade 12. The lower primary school is located in Repulse Bay, and the and upper primary, middle, and high schools are in Tai Tam; the school is in the midst of some redevelopment so there is some ongoing upheaval that involves primary school students moving campuses.
The school was founded in 1966 by a partnership between the American community and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. While its curriculum remains deeply rooted in American and Christian values, the school clearly states its “international and multicultural elements”, its student population of more than 40 nationalities (56% are American), and a religious education curriculum that covers Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam. HKIS has a set of “student learning results” that focus on academic excellence, spirituality, character development, self-motivated learning, Chinese culture, and contributions to society.
Head of school Alan Runge sums it up by saying:
“Our vision is to develop creative, collaborative, resilient, and caring young people who are passionate about meeting the needs of the larger global community.”
The lower primary school teaches Reception 1 (pre-kindergarten) through to Grade 2. HKIS puts its 4 to 7 year olds in a very hands-on environment where they are “actively involved in exploring, experimenting and talking”. As well as focusing on literacy and maths, specialist teachers take classes in Chinese studies, technology, library, music, PE, and art. Children learn about Christianity through Bible stories, songs, and prayers, and are given an insight into other world religions by sharing celebrations, visiting temples, shrines, and mosques, and studying religious and cultural books.
Lower primary principal Maya Nelson says:
“The development of the children's social emotional, cognitive, motor and oral language skills are crucial to building the foundation of learning. Play is as important as literacy in our school.”
Children aged 8 to 10 years old attend the upper primary school, which teaches Grades 3 to 5. The curriculum includes language arts (reading, writing, speaking and listening), maths, Christianity and other world religions, science, social studies and Mandarin. Students also take specialist classes in PE, art, music, Chinese studies and technology. A highlight of the academic year is CAMP, an off-campus residential trip that sees students study anything from oceanography and orienteering to creative writing and drama, as well as taking part in activities like archery, tennis, swimming, and rock climbing.
Upper primary principal Jennifer DeLashmutt sums up the school’s approach to teaching, saying:
“We are passionate about inquiry models for learning where our students actively participate in their experiences, generate questions, develop action plans and reflect upon their learning goals.”
HKIS is a large school, and in an effort to capture that ‘small school feeling’, students in Grades 3 to 5 are divided into clusters for lessons throughout the day. Classes range between 18 to 23 students, and one teaching assistant is shared between two classes in Grades 1 to 2, and three classes in Grade 3 to 5. You can expect a high teacher to student ratio here, so students may not get the individual attention they would receive at other international schools.
A well-rounded education
In line with American schools, the academic year at HKIS is divided into two semesters: August to mid-January and January to June. HKIS is accredited by the United States Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and is a member of the East Asia Regional Conference of Overseas Schools (EARCOS). Its American-style education fully supports technology in the classroom. From Reception through to Grade 2, students have access to iPads, iPods, digital cameras, floor BeeBots, and electronics kits; students in Grades 3 and 4 have a personal computer that stays on campus.
While HKIS incorporates American educational programmes into its curriculum, it is an international school in many ways. The curriculum includes a two-stream Chinese programme, which teaches Mandarin as a second language and Mandarin for near-native speakers.
The school makes it clear that,
“Our intent is not to convert children to a particular religious point of view. We teach students the basic tenets of the Christian faith and the ways of living that follow from it. We also teach about other world religions.”
The school takes service to the community very seriously. Primary school fundraisers have included sponsored reading challenges, and getting students to write and illustrate their own books. They are also encouraged to help others during the CAMP programme. Events such as the annual St. Baldrick's Day – when students, teachers, and parents shave their heads to raise funds for childhood cancer research – give you some insight into the community feel of HSIK. There’s also a very active Parent Faculty Organisation (PFO), which raises funds for the school, offers one-to-one mentoring for new families, and arranges events including the Pumpkin Festival, Chinese New Year festivities, and the World Fair.
In addition to offering support for students with mild special learning difficulties, HSIK has two enrichment specialists who work with gifted students and prepare them for national competitions such as the Math Olympiad, Hong Kong Young Writers, and the Knowledge Master Open.
As for extra-curricular activities, the school offers a programme of music and sports activities to all grades, both after school and during weekends. Clubs are as diverse as public speaking, sport, cooking, drama and dance, music, Minecraft, and the school yearbook. The school runs an impressive choice of summer programmes on and off campus to all HKIS students, and Scouts groups are run on and off campus.
In August 2017, a new lower primary school opened at the Repulse Bay campus; this features a large auditorium, rooftop playground, indoor pool, and full-size gymnasium. It has been tailor-made for young children, and includes features such as a rainbow staircase that is illuminated by sunlight; a 9m-long mosaic of Hong Kong's skyline painted by the school's students; and a covered playground on every classroom level.
All upper primary students will have access to the facilities via a bridge that connects the two schools. Existing facilities include a library, a gym with stage and band room, video broadcast studio, Chinese studies centre, art and music rooms, and a MakerSpace called Studio Q.
The upper primary school has been temporarily relocated to the Tai Tam campus while renovation work takes place in Repulse Bay. Future plans for the Tai Tam campus include a purpose-built student activity centre and a 1,000-seat performance hall.
HKIS operates a mandatory bus policy for all lower and upper primary students to help ease the heavy traffic at its Repulse Bay and Tai Tam campuses. While this policy has received a mixed reaction from parents, it is certainly not unique to HKIS; other international schools that require students to take the bus include the Pok Fu Lam campus of German Swiss International School.
Admission and fees
HKIS is a popular school and limited places are available; children of all faiths are welcome. It operates a wait pool rather than a wait list, so when a place becomes available, it goes to the students seen as the best “fit” for the school rather than someone who has been waiting the longest. There are hopes that the new lower primary school will be able to offer additional places.
As a sign of its popularity perhaps, the fees here are high; they are HKD 196,200 for Reception to Grade 5, and there is an annual capital levy (ACL) of HKD 20,000.
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