Located in Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong International School’s secondary school follows US-styled curriculum founded on Christian principles – and will certainly appeal to anyone looking for an American college prep education.
Having recently celebrated its milestone 50th anniversary Hong Kong International School (HKIS) is a well-established secondary school that sets students on the road to universities and colleges in the US, UK, and worldwide. With its college-preparatory American curriculum, Advanced Placement (AP) programmes and strong Christian values, HKIS is hugely popular within the American expat community. That said, this is an international school that welcomes students of all nationalities and all faiths with open arms.
HKIS has two campuses 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. All schools follow an American-styled curriculum that is grounded in the Christian faith. Grade 12 students graduate with an HSIK Diploma, and high school students can also choose to work towards the Advanced Placement International Diploma.
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 pathway to college
The HKIS middle school has 620 students and teaches Grades 6 to 8; the curriculum includes maths, science, language arts, music, social studies, religion, PE, modern languages and Mandarin.
Middle school principal Paul D. Passamonte says,
“HKIS Middle School offers a broad range of elective, language and music courses in addition to a rigorous academic core programme.”
All students start the school day with an advisory or Pastoral Care Group (PCG). As part of the school’s commitment to hands-on experiences, students take part in the annual PEAK (Programmes of Extended Activities For Kids); these five-day adventures range from camping in Hong Kong to service trips in Cambodia.
The educational journey at HKIS ends at high school, which teaches Grades 9 to 12. The high school has a strong American-feel with its homerooms, comprehensive counselling programme, Advanced Placement (AP) programme and SATs. As well as studying the core subjects, students take lessons in Chinese, the performing arts, social studies, religion, visual arts and design and PE. Each student has an assigned counsellor who advises them on what courses to take, and they belong to one of four communities (H, K, I or S) throughout middle and high school. Every year, high school students take part in the Interim programme, which organises community service and outdoor adventure trips to Africa, Australasia, Europe, India, Southeast Asia, China and Hong Kong.
All credit-based courses prepare students for US universities, and there is the option of taking AP courses in Grades 11 and 12. Students can also earn additional credits by signing up to one or more of the 40 after-school courses offered through the Global Online Academy (GOA).
Class sizes are roughly 23 students, although this can drop to around 12 students in the most senior years. Grades 9 to 12 are not required to wear a uniform.
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 and there’s a 1:1 laptop policy throughout.
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, and its spirituality lessons cover Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam.
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. Students are encouraged to help others during the PEAK and Interim programmes; Grades 7 and 8 students are asked to organise and deliver a ‘compassion project’ to help someone in need; and high school students are expected to sign up to any of the 15 service clubs such as Habitat for Humanity, Roots and Shoots, UNICEF and Greenpeace. 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 1-1 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. Approximately 60% of students are involved in sports with 96% involved in community service groups. Clubs are as diverse as public speaking, journalism, sport, cooking, drama and dance, music, and the school yearbook. Sports include badminton, basketball, field hockey (girls), track and field, crew, rugby (boys), volleyball, cross country, sailing, soccer (boys), softball, squash, swimming, tennis and table tennis. The school also runs an impressive choice of summer programmes on and off campus to all HKIS students.
An education at HKIS is focused on preparing students for further education in US, and more than 80% of HKIS’s graduates continue their studies at a college or university in the US. In the class of 2017, 36% of students had a GPA of 3.67 to 4.1. And the 2016 AP results show that 95% of exams were graded 3, 4 or 5, and 93% of exams were graded 3+.
Located on the southern side of Hong Kong Island, the Tai Tam campus has been earmarked for development. Future plans include a purpose-built student activity centre with a swimming pool, gymnasium, tennis courts, batting cages, and a cafe; a centre for learning and excellence in teaching, a 1,000-seat performance hall for assemblies, performances and chapel meetings; and a new arts wing. The HKIS upper primary school has been temporarily relocated to Tai Tam while renovation work takes place at its Repulse Bay campus.
HKIS operates a mandatory bus policy 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.
Fees at HKIS are at the top end of the scale; they range from HKD 196,200 in Grade 5 to HKD 225,000 in Grade 12, and there is an annual capital levy (ACL) of HKD 20,000.
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