As well as offering a rigorous and broad American curriculum, Singapore American School (SAS) boasts state-of the-art facilities, one of the largest campuses in the region, and a new Chinese immersion programme.
Singapore American School was founded in 1956 by a group of American expats who invested $100,000 to create a school for less than 200 students. As it expanded, SAS spread across several sites before moving to its existing all-through campus in 1996 with facilities including a rainforest, low ropes course and makerspaces.
SAS is a popular non-profit school in northern Singapore with a predominantly American student population. Demand for places is high here, and students are promised "an exemplary American educational experience with an international perspective".
Spread across a vast 36-acre site in Woodlands, SAS runs a ‘schools within a school’ model that divides its students between an early learning centre (three to four years); elementary school (KG to Grade 5), which is the largest part of SAS; middle school (Grades 6-8); and the high school for Grades 9-12. There are 700 students in early years and kindergarten, 900 in elementary, 900 in middle school, and 1,200 in high school. Class sizes are 22 in kindergarten through to Grade 8 (teacher to student ratio of 1:10), and just 19 in high school.
Everything is on a grand scale here – just the early learning library has 2,500 books alone. It hosts more than 20 major art, dance, and drama productions annually; runs 250 clubs, service organisations, and after-school activities; and has over 35 competitive boys' and girls' sports teams.
The advantage of a large school is that each ‘division’ has its own dedicated facilities. The disadvantage can be that students are in danger of getting ‘lost’ in the system, something that SAS is wholeheartedly working to avoid through its use of counsellors, homerooms, houses and advisory groups. And, although SAS has been on the block for more than 50 years, it has its sights set firmly on the future of education with several progressive project-based programmes, open-plan classrooms and new Chinese immersion classes.
SAS offers an American-based curriculum for kindergarten through to Grade 12. But what makes SAS stand out from crowd? Well, there’s more to this school than just its size. Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), SAS has the largest Advanced Placement (AP) programme outside of the US. It is also one of the few schools in Singapore to offer a Chinese immersion programme from kindergarten.
SAS' youngest learners join the early learning centre, which uses a Reggio Emilia-inspired approach to learning. The curriculum includes daily Chinese language classes, literacy, maths, science, social studies, music, and daily motor skills development classes in a dedicated 'move and groove’ room.
In the elementary, middle and high school years, teaching follows a US standards-based curriculum; this includes the Common Core State Standards for all grades, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and MAP testing. As you’d expect from a US-based curriculum, there’s a strong focus on the arts, language, maths, science, PE and social studies; it’s a well-rounded curriculum that makes an education at SAS consistent with American stateside schools.
In middle school, students choose from a list of elective courses including band, strings, choir, art, drama, dance, music, IT, video, tech, strategic learning and cooking. Chinese, Spanish, and French are offered as language options in the middle school; students must choose one. They also take part in the annual Classroom Without Walls programme, which offers real-world experiences ranging from an overnight trip to Pulau Ubin island in Grade 6 to a four-day trip to Indonesia in Grade 8. A standout feature in the middle school experience is TRi-Time; similar to Google 20% Time or Genius Hour, this part of the school day is dedicated to independently working on a project of the student’s choice.
At high school, SAS currently offers 25 AP courses, the AP Capstone Diploma programme, and advanced topic courses for students who wish to pursue college-level study. Students complete an SAS Catalyst Project, when they “sample a career, carry out an extended service-learning project, deeply explore and research an academic topic of interest, or create a novel or artistic work.” Similar to the IB’s Creativity, Action, Service and Extended Essay – and the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) that’s often run alongside A Levels – this project gives students a valuable opportunity to develop non-academic skills. With universities increasingly looking for students who have creative skills rather than just strong academic results, this is hugely important.
There’s also the option to complete a Quest project. This full-year, all-day, immersive programme encourages students to design, plan, and complete interest–based projects with the guidance of a teacher; it culminates with a project thesis paper and talk.
“Being in Quest allows students to work at various job sites, make products, start businesses, conduct graduate-level academic research and pursue passions—all of which can help to differentiate a student in the college admissions process.”
Here’s a school that is committed to letting students take control of their learning, both through its curriculum and its facilities. Whether through TRi-Time, Quest or the SAS Catalyst Project, SAS puts personalised learning at the centre of its education. And, as well as giving students the time to pursue these personal projects, SAS gives them the space and resources to do so – whether soldering in a makerspace in the middle school library or drawing blueprints in design labs.
What also really stands out at SAS is how responsive it is to change. While it may be one of Singapore’s oldest international schools, SAS is constantly updating and changing its curriculum, learning environment and teaching methods, albeit with a very deliberate “slow and steady approach”. Most recently, teachers were sent on a research trip to 100 different schools worldwide to find out, “are we continuing to offer our students the very best education that we can?”
In recent years the school has enhanced the international aspect of its curriculum with a new Chinese immersion programme; introduced some innovative makerspaces; switched to open-plan, flexible learning classrooms in the early years; and rolled out new personalised learning programmes.
“We’ve been so successful and built a reputation on that, but you can’t rest on your laurels and you have to be progressive, especially as more schools open in Singapore.”
The Chinese immersion programme was launched with two immersion kindergarten classes in 2017–18. These classes will roll forward each academic year until Grade 5 by 2022–23. Designed for native English speakers, teaching here starts with a 75/25 model in kindergarten, where maths, social studies, science and language arts are taught in Chinese, and English language arts, art, music and PE are taught in English. This will move towards a 50/50 model by Grade 4.
What does the school feel like? Get the SAS Campus Experience here.
There’s a 1:1 iPad programme in the elementary school and a 1:1 MacBook air laptop programme in middle school, both of which are provided by the school; in high school there is a Bring Your Own Device programme. As well as teaching digital safety throughout the year, SAS runs an annual digital boot camp for all students.
There’s no talk of STEM or STEAM at SAS, which have become popular educational buzzwords across Singapore. That doesn’t mean that there’s an absence of technology or innovation on campus. Quite the opposite. Through its 1:1 programme, SAS uses technology across the curriculum and has resources in its makerspaces and design labs to code and build.
Also, SAS is constantly adapting its curriculum to reflect the changing demands of our digital age; for example, this year it added a new Reading, Writing, and Publishing in a Digital World high school course. Students also have the opportunity to study technology-specific Advanced Placement (AP) courses in computer science, engineering science, and robotics, as well as mobile app development, graphic design, and game design.
Sport and the arts
SAS has some impressive sporting facilities that support its strong whole-school sports programme. As required by the US curriculum, students learn skills in football, netball, basketball, tennis and many other team and individual sports in PE lessons and after-school clubs. They can also benefit from a more extensive sports programme that they would receive in their home country; there aren’t many schools in Singapore that can offer golf lessons or sessions on an outdoor high adventure ropes course as part of the PE curriculum.
As you’d expect from an American school – and from one that proudly flies the flag for its Eagles teams – SAS also celebrates national sports such as baseball and softball.
The Eagles compete against other international schools in leagues organised by the Athletic Conference of Singapore International Schools (ACSIS) and the South East Asia Students Activity Conference (SEASAC). And, as well as teaching skills, SAS expects all student athletes to learn the values of the ‘The Eagle Way’, including determination, sportsmanship, teamwork and communication. This is just one indicator of how the school is providing a wholesome learning environment for its students.
SAS also champions the arts, whether that’s music, drama, dance, film or art. As you’d expect at any international school in the Little Red Dot, the school has invested heavily in the arts; there’s an art wing with in-house kilns, and photography, film and graphic art studios, as well as three theatres, art and drama spaces and music rooms. Students can learn and perform on a gamelan instrument; the PTA and SAS Foundation fund a visitors-in-residence programme that brings in professional musicians, illustrators, thespians and choreographers to work with students; and students have an opportunity to participate in a variety of musical ensembles, art exhibitions, original plays, full-blown musicals and choral concerts.
Beyond the classroom
Learning continues beyond the classroom walls and the school day at SAS. One of the advantages of having such a large campus is that students can go on a field trip to its outdoor rainforest without even leaving the school grounds! As well as having this living science lab, SAS uses areas such as the high school garden for outdoor exploration and learning.
Thanks to its well-established links with the local community and its active PTA, SAS organises many visits from authors, illustrators and musicians. All grades attend field trips, and there are hundreds of after-school clubs available. Also, SAS runs various community service initiatives including buddying up with students at a nearby local home. What comes across here is how SAS takes full advantage of its size and extra resources to provide a constantly stimulating environment for its students.
SAS has more than 50 different nationalities but it is predominantly an American school, with around 61% coming from the US; the second and third largest nationalities are Indian and Singaporean (both around 6% each). By law, local students need approval from the Ministry of Education to attend any international school – and SAS has one of the highest intakes of Singaporean students.
All students from elementary through to high school starts at 8am and finish at 3pm; nursery classes finish earlier at 1pm.
When you have around 4,000 students walking around campus, it’s more important than ever to make feel children feel welcome, safe and included. Students who don't feel a personal connection to one or more teachers can lack the sense of community that smaller schools in Singapore provide.
SAS addresses this from day one with a strong pastoral care programme. A team of trained counsellors meet with every new student and their family, along with members of the PTA’s welcoming committee, to “help every type of transition”. Each ‘school’ has its own dedicated team of counsellors and a psychologist, and all students are matched with a counsellor who provides personal support. These counsellors play a key role at SAS: character education lessons, individual and family counselling, small group workshops for students, leading parent coffee mornings, and more.
There are also well-thought-out initiatives such as the elementary Creativity Centre, a makerspace that was opened to help new students make friends during break times.
“We’re known for our strong counselling programme, particularly in high school. We have personal and college counsellors who are based at the student life centre, which is like a living room of the high school, it’s also a place where students can go to hang out.”
Students are given plenty of personal guidance. All middle school students are part of a Homebase group of approximately twelve students, which meets at the start of every school day and is supervised by a single teacher. And in high school, every student joins a small advisory group with an advisor to mentor them. As well as supporting students and recognising students’ individual experiences and talents, these programmes help to make a big school feel small.
A benefit of having such a large student body is that there is no shortage of parent volunteers. As well as running fundraising and social events, parents are so invested in the school that they volunteer as crossing guards on school mornings to ensure pedestrian safety on Woodgrove Avenue. There are also regular parent workshops and coffee mornings that help to build a close-knit community. And the school has several channels of communication to ensure that parents remain well-informed about their child’s education, from class blogs to a weekly school-wide e-newsletter
“We have a very strong PTA who organise events such as ‘Welcome Back BBQs’ and the International Fair, and sit on the Welcoming Committee for new parents. We’re building a community of both parents and students here.”
Only around 20% of families live in the immediate vicinity of the school; more than 80% of students catch the bus to and from school. SAS is still deeply rooted in its local community, though. For example, it supports a huge Halloween celebration in the local neighbourhood and invites local residents to an annual old-fashioned American county fair,
It’s even more essential for health and safety to be managed well on such a large campus – and SAS does not disappoint. There are two nurses offices on campus, and all students carry an SAS card that is used for ID, payment in the canteen, to access the campus, and to ensure that students get on the correct school bus.
Leadership and faculty
The school’s superintendent, US-born Dr Chip Kimball, leads the school alongside dedicated principals for the early years, elementary, middle and high schools.
“They are physically their own divisions with their own principals, and they don’t cross over – and in that sense SAS doesn’t feel that big.”
Staff retention is good. Teachers are staying on average for seven years, and some of the school’s senior leadership team have held their post for more than 20 years; for example, the elementary principal David Hoss has been at the school for 29 years. It’s unique for an international school, and it speaks volumes about the level of staff satisfaction here.
SAS has a strong academic record, which is even more impressive because it is a non-selective school.
In the 2018 AP exams, the SAS mean score was 4.25, which outperforms the global score of 2.89. 80% of tests scored 4 or 5, which is significantly higher than the global average of 34%; 97% scored 3,4 and 5, compared to the global average of 61%.
Around 78% of students head to US universities but the school is aiming to equip students with the skills to “transition to any system, anywhere in the world.” To date, however, students are leaving SAS well-equipped to get a place at a US university and with higher grades, and more international experience, than their American peers.
Located in the north of Singapore and spread across 36 acres, SAS has the space to offer everything you’d expect from a state-of-the-art campus – and more! You'll find a two-acre natural rainforest, an indoor rock-climbing wall, a high adventure ropes course, tennis courts, gyms, sports pitches, a performing arts centre with auditorium and black box theatre, science labs, libraries, music studios and other specialist facilities.
The early years, elementary, middle and high schools have their own low-rise blocks with a dedicated entrance and bus drop-off point, classrooms, specialist facilities, play areas and libraries.
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