The Harbour School’s Grove campus is full of surprises. Creatively designed to deliver an ‘alternative’ education for Grades 1-6, this inclusive school in Ap Lei Chau has big ideas for a small space.
What looks like a simple red brick, six-storey building within a housing development is actually home to a treehouse, rock pools, a playful library, and child-sized doors leading into flexible classrooms. Every floor is themed on one of the five Chinese elements – Earth, Fire, Water, Wood, Metal and Air – and every specialist room creates a different ‘experience’ for students.
Click here to read our review of The Harbour School's Grove campus.
It’s a campus that really lends itself to a curriculum with plenty of hands-on activities and real-life experiences, and it suits a school that is progressive in its approach to primary education. From Inspirational Corners with beanbags to Ideas Boxes dotted around the corridors, there are plenty of inclusive design features here.
As well as looking and feeling like a happy place, The Grove is both unique and unconventional – which could certainly appeal to families who are looking for an alternative to Hong Kong’s large all-through schools or more traditional campuses.
Read on to discover some of the highlights of this campus…
One of the school’s Centres of Excellence is the marine science centre, which is staffed by marine biologists. Home to rock pools and fish tanks, this wet laboratory gives students the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning and investigations about the marine environment. There aren’t many schools where you can observe, research and touch horseshoe crabs, anemones, bamboo sharks, corals and a variety of fish.
Students in all grades take at least one marine science course every year, and the school focuses on integrating this centre of excellence into the main curriculum.
Maxine Cutracci, a marine science specialist at THS, said: “We’re teaching marine biology to students here and focusing on Hong Kong marine life. We’re also connecting marine biology to the different subjects they are learning, from history to science. For example, Grade 3 students may come in here to learn about the food chains in the sea, while a Grade 5 class will be researching algae.”
THS plans to develop a shallow swimming pool on campus where students will develop skills in the water including basic swimming, snorkelling and introductory SCUBA lessons.
Located on the sixth floor is a performing arts centre that resembles a black box theatre. It’s a hugely flexible space with moveable walls, state of the art sound and lighting, props, and musical instruments. As well as being used for drama and music classes, the centre has staged student performances such as Bugsy.
THS has a multi-functional rooftop that features reading corners, a colourful playground, a small Astro-turf pitch, and a giant chess board. This urban school may have limited space, but it is certainly making the most of what it has to deliver recreational outdoor space and outdoor learning experiences.
All students take media tech classes in this well-equipped lab, where they learn about computers and technology as well as internet safety.
“We have a programme called Tools Not Toys. All students get a laptop in Grade 3 but they can’t take it home until they’ve earnt their ‘computer usage’ licence, so that they know to take care of it. This can be revoked at any time, if their parents think it’s being misused.”
Students can ‘literally’ slide into the enormous library, which is a split-level, naturally-lit wide open space that’s filled with books, reading snugs, deckchairs, beanbags, rugs and armchairs. As well as being used for library sessions, students stage small performances here, can complete jigsaw puzzles during recess, and work on art projects. THS injects a lot of fun into its library; this is a place to explore, find a place to read, climb and slide, or cuddle up to one of the many soft toys.
Located on the Earth floor, the library features a set of steps that are designed to resemble rolling green hills; with books tucked away under every step, this is another spot for students to read in. There’s also a ‘secret’ door that leads inside a treehouse, where students walk down a winding staircase to exit through a child-sized door into a room where they can play chess and other traditional games.
The Foundry makerspace is another one of the school’s Centres of Excellence – and it creates the ideal environment for building, designing and creating. Aprons hang on the wall, workbenches are laid out with coding and robotics equipment, and traditional tools are displayed on peg boards.
Once again, the school focuses on integrating this centre of excellence into the main curriculum. For example, students made sextants using laser-cutters in The Foundry to support their learning about angles and explorers; Grade 6 students supported their course on revolutions in history by making a printing press.
Every class has an intensive week in The Foundry every term, and the makerspace is also used for a Full STEAM Ahead programme.
“Almost everything that we do has a service element. For example, one of our students has a hand impairment and can only use his thumb and index finger. We challenged our Grade 5 students to design a range of customised video game controllers for him. Outside our community, we have built a hydroponic farm for growing basil that we hope to supply to local restaurants.”
The Grove makes effective use of its limited space thanks to design features including moveable walls and flexible classrooms with round desks, chairs and beanbags. Walls are used as an extension of the classroom, where students display their ongoing work; corridors are transformed into tracks for racing robots; and there are child-height doors leading into some of the lower-grade classrooms. While the individual classrooms are quite small, the class sizes here are too.
“In every class we try to have places where you can stand up, sit down, work independently and work in groups.
“The Renaissance Fair is a huge highlight in the Grade 4 curriculum, and students work on this for four months. We have flexibility to open all the Grade 4 classrooms into one large space that is transformed into a castle throughout the project.”
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