• Large campus, but with three self-contained schools
• Green, leafy campus
• College campus feel
When you know you’re about to walk into one of Singapore’s largest international schools located on one of the world’s largest campuses, you can’t help but take a deep breath before taking that first step. You’re expecting to feel overwhelmed, easily lost, and by the end of your visit, slightly tired! What surprised us after visiting Singapore American School, then, was how we very quickly we could get our bearings.
Here’s a school that may cover a vast expanse of 36 acres, but it has broken it down into smaller ‘divisions’ by adopting a schools within a school model. Yes, we might have clocked up our 10,000 steps for the day, but most students only ever need to find their way around their section of the school – and that could be the self-contained early years building or the low-rise elementary, middle or high school blocks.
Read our full review of Singapore American School here.
Each school has its own dedicated entrance, so that you don’t end up with nearly 5,000 students walking through the school gates en masse at one time. The three schools have colour-coded corridors so that you quickly know which part of the campus you’re in. And each one has its own dedicated facilities ranging from play areas to science labs, which means that students are not running from one end of campus to the other to get from a science to an art class.
That said, SAS is still a big campus and will never have that small-school community feel or charm that some families may be looking for. (There’s even a shuttle bus that can ferry parents with siblings from one end of the campus to the other!) But, while it may feel too busy, sprawling and overwhelming for some, others will prefer the wide offering of facilities, academic and non-academic programmes, and college campus-feel that only a large school can offer.
Although it’s a popular talking point, SAS is about more than its size. Here’s a school that is located in the one of the greenest, leafiest areas of Singapore, and there’s a quiet suburban feel to it that helps to create a perfect environment for focused learning. Close to the Bukit Timah Expressway and Seletar Expressway, it is easily accessible from of all corners of Singapore, has plenty of wide-open space and boasts a mix of modern and traditional facilities.
Security is reassuringly strict, school traffic is managed efficiently, and buses drop students directly at the school gate. And when one of the first things you notice when you enter a school is the large PTA’s office, you do feel reassured that parents have a key role to play here.
Want to know more about its curriculum and academic results? Read our full review of the SAS campus here.
• Highlights include elementary creative centre and middle school makerspace
• Vast outdoor space, including a small rainforest and low ropes course
• Positivity of teaching staff, and strong engagement with students
SAS has grown from less than 200 students to just under 4,000 students in its 60 year-plus history and moved countless times. Thanks to its 90-year lease from the Ministry of Education, which is considerably longer than most international schools in Singapore, SAS will not be moving any time soon. And, we were reassured during our visit, it won’t be expanding its numbers either.
“I think we have the largest campus in South East Asia, and we were very blessed to be allocated this large plot of land as we were growing and expanding.
“4,000 students is our maximum capacity, though, and we’re not looking to grow any further. We know it’s a large campus and that’s a big number of students. Any development work that we do on this campus now is just in response to the needs and demands of our existing student pull.”
An international school that has been on the block for more than 60 years is certainly something to shout about in Singapore – and SAS is hugely proud of its heritage. This is celebrated in a hall of fame-style Heritage Gallery that tracks the school’s timeline through a collection of photos and historical facts. It’s nice to see this located at the school’s entrance, and does make the school stand out from the sea of new schools in Singapore.
During our visit to SAS, we walked from the elementary school (KG to Grade 5), which is the largest part of SAS, through the middle school and into the high school. Each part of the school felt age-appropriate, well-maintained, and modern without being too glitzy. One of the first things were told during our visit to SAS was, that “We’ve done a lot at SAS to make a big school feel small.” This is helped, in part, by creating self-contained schools with their own facilities.
According to the school, “it never feels too busy” and SAS manages its large student body by having staggered recess times, lunch breaks and timetables. This seems to be effective as, during our visit, the play areas, canteen and corridors never felt overcrowded or noisy. Instead, we felt there was a great sense of space, lots of movement between indoor and outdoor areas, and plenty of greenery.
Here’s a school that is so vast it has room for a 1.6 acre-rainforest, which has been preserved by students since the school arrived at the site. SAS has partnered with Singapore Botanic Gardens to build a small nursery here and create a living laboratory during after-school sustainability and gardening clubs. Used by science classes from elementary through to high school, and for students coming from as far away as kindergarten it can feel like a field trip just to get there!
What impressed us more than the size of the school, though, was the positivity across campus. During our meetings with the parent leader in the elementary Creative Centre, the technology teacher in the middle school makerspace, and a high school art teacher, they all spoke with passion and a genuine enthusiasm for their job. And the students, whether playing table tennis during break, building a marble maze, performing the violin on stage, or studying in the library were engaged, focused, polite and visibly happy.
We also noticed how cool and comfortable they looked in the SAS uniform of a simple polo shirt with shorts or skirt, which compared to other international schools is much more relaxed and less formal. And it’s impossible to ignore the Eagle logo that’s painted on walls throughout the campus, alongside messages of Be Safe, Be Kind, Be Responsible, which all helps to create that “sense of belonging and American identity” that SAS is so committed to.
There’s no mistaking that you’re in the youngest division of the school when you walk into the standalone early years centre, which is home to a nursery for three-year-olds and pre-school for four-year-olds. As one of the school’s newest facilities – it was given an overhaul in 2018 – it does highlight SAS’ ongoing commitment and investment in change. And, as we see rising numbers of international schools in Singapore open up pre-schools within their campus, it helps to give SAS the competitive edge.
Featuring a Reggio Emilia-inspired design, with neutral colour scheme, soft natural lighting, greenery and wooden resources, it’s such a calm space. Floor to ceiling glass windows create walls between classrooms, rooms spill out into a large central area, and the play equipment is sensory and designed for open-ended play.
The elementary school is at the front of the campus, and classrooms are built around a central quad that’s used as a play area. There are 10 kindergarten classes, all located on the ground floor, and Grades 1-2 are located on the higher floors. The play equipment is modern and fun, and outdoor classroom corridors are brought to life with colourful displays of student work.
Specialist facilities here include a move and groove room that’s used every other day to develop perceptual motor skills development, in addition to timetabled PE lessons. There are also dedicated rooms for music, art and PE, two learner pools, small theatre, makerspace, library, outdoor play areas and a canteen. A standout feature for us was the gamelan music room where elementary students learn to play this traditional Indonesian instrument.
“We’re offering an American programme with an international perspective, and that’s really what we’re trying to put into practice by including instruments like the gamelan in our music programme, for example.”
Classrooms have a flexible layout with a variety of seating and desks, learning walls, student work, and open drawers of resources. They are bright and colourful with barely an empty patch of wall space, which some students will find inspiring while others may find it distracting. Two classes share one large open-plan learning space, which can be divided for quiet activities using a movable wall.
“We have open, flexible learning environments to accommodate smaller learning groups, as part of our commitment to create a personalised learning community. Our classrooms are responsive to the needs of the learning activity.”
The elementary library is a large, well-stocked space with around 80,000 books. There are lots of positive messages here to encourage reading – from signs saying ‘If you liked this… read this’ through to arranging its collection of fiction by genre such as Realistic Fiction rather than a A-Z of authors. Sofas are painted by middle school students, with designs ranging from Babar The Elephant to Alice in Wonderland, which adds a personal touch. We also liked the simple but effective idea of writing the library day on each child’s bookbag.
One of the most recent additions to the elementary school is its Chinese immersion room, which was launched in 2017. As an alternative to daily Chinese or Spanish lessons, students can choose to join one of two Chinese immersion classes from kindergarten upwards. Designed for English native speakers, it follows a 75-25 model with 75% of lessons in Chinese instruction and 25% in English.
“These classes are full, so the demand is there. We will continue with two classes per grade level up until Grade 5.”
Another highlight within this part of the school has to be the Creativity Centre. Open during morning and lunch breaks, this colourful – and fantastically messy and chaotic – room gives children an opportunity to be creative with everyday items. It’s run by a parent, who is now employed by the school full time to run the centre after students raised a petition to extend the opening hours. There’s no denying the popularity of or love for this centre, where we saw so many happy children, admired wall to wall displays of creativity, and enjoyed watching kindergarten students take part in an I-Spy challenge to spot items such as flippers and even a piano hiding in the corner!
“We have families coming in and out, and so we need to help students build friendships. While students will go straight into the playground on day one, others who are more reserved. So, we created this centre for children to come in during their lunch breaks and make things, and make friends.
“It’s a less competitive space than a classroom, a low-pressure environment where they can practise social skills, critical thinking and problem-solving. It’s one of the few spaces where the children can share the space with other grades, and inspire each other. They may not be in the room at the same time but you can see the trickle-down effect.”
It’s quick and easy to spot when you’ve moved from the elementary to middle school, Grades 6-8, as the colour scheme changes from blue to red. With great views of the school’s rainforest, the classrooms are colourful and bright; science, art, music and technology rooms are well-equipped; and the entrance is lined with student-painted murals.
The library is another learning environment within SAS where students looked both comfortable and confident. Slightly unconventional and with several ‘out of the box’ ideas, this library has a recording studio and wobble boards where students can stay on the move while reading. We also noticed a sizeable collection of Chinese and Spanish titles, which support the school’s language programmes; this is also evident in all the libraries for early years, elementary and high school students.
At the heart of the library is the middle school makerspace, which has transformed what is typically the quietest part of a campus into a hive of activity. Here’s a space where we saw students being challenged to step out of their comfort zone and to take risks in their learning. It’s an example of how SAS is championing proactive learning, with young builders and engineers working on self-directed projects as varied as designing a unicycle, guitar or a wooden clock with gears through to building prototypes for new student lockers or a video arcade machine.
Staffed by an ‘instructional coach’ with a strong design background, the makerspace is used by many middle school students during their 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. Students are also encouraged to use the facility during breaks and after school.
“This makerspace is a space for students to work on their own projects, and they can come here for help, whether it’s building a skateboard or learning how to sew. This is the place that gives them the choice to explore a passion instead of following a pre-set curriculum.
“Because it’s in the library, everyone sees it and there are a lot of ‘walk-ins’. Students can feel the buzz here and think of things they’d never thought of before.”
As we walk into the high school, the colour scheme changes back to blue. Once again, the classrooms surround a calm quad area, which in this part of the school is an eco-garden where turtles, frogs and fish swim in the pond. It feels worlds away from the elementary school – and with many hallmarks of a US college campus such as grass quads, common rooms and a bustling atrium.
Once again, the specialist facilities are impressive and fully support the wide variety of AP courses on offer. From modern design labs to traditional paint-splattered art studios, students have the space and tools to become proactive learners. What impressed us here though is the school’s efforts to build a positive and creative environment.
For example, in an art class there was music playing, low-level lighting and students from mixed grades deeply engrossed in art projects – and as one student told us, “There’s a cool vibe in here.” Next door in the ceramics studio, students sat at pottery wheels to transform lumps of clay into art and in the broadcasting studio, students were filming an episode of the school’s Morning TV Show.
Elsewhere, the high school makerspace gives students the ideal space to work on their SAS Catalyst Project, where they choose a passion or interest, from developing a cookbook through building a model aircraft; the split-level library is large enough to accommodate quiet study and noisy presentations; and the journalism room is well-equipped with Apple Macs for students to work on the SAS newspaper and media coursework.
Arts facilities, which are shared between the middle and high school, include two theatres and an open performance area. Shared sports facilities include an outdoor swimming pool with plenty of shaded seating for swim galas, and enough space we were told for SAS to regularly host ACSIS events.
There’s no denying that SAS’ outdoor sports facilities have the wow factor – from the baseball pitch and basketball courts through to the athletics track, soccer pitch and tennis courts, they stretch for as far as the eye can see and would inspire the least-sportiest child to run, bat, swim or play.
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