• Modern US-style school
• Well-maintained, beautiful landscaping
• Quiet but well-connected location
Berkeley International School doesn’t just offer a US-style education inside the classroom, it literally looks and feels like a US-style campus. There’s a sweeping driveway, an imposing clocktower, picturesque landscaping, elegant architecture water features and arboretums.
It’s grand, well-groomed and probably one of the more beautiful campuses in Bangkok. The big question is, though, does Berkeley have the academic credentials to match these stunning surroundings? Based on our first impressions, it certainly has the facilities and the enthusiasm of its teaching staff to deliver a solid American-style education.
Located in Bangna this K-12 school feels worlds away from the city centre, although it is within easy reach of the BTS Udom Suk station; the school also runs a shuttle bus between the station and campus. It’s a closed and secure campus with security at every entrance.
• Extensive modern sports facilities
• Happy and positive school climate
• Strong focus the arts and sport
It’s easy to forget when walking around Berkeley that this is a school of just 450 students. It’s a mid-sized campus with grand-scale facilities spread across a five-hectare site; because the classroom blocks are close together it feels quick and easy to navigate.
Here’s a school that appears to have some of the benefits of a large school, namely modern specialist facilities and open green spaces. It also has the advantages of a small student body – a close-knit community, everyone appears to know each other, every student has greater access to facilities and out-of-class learning opportunities, and it doesn’t feel overcrowded.
As we walked around the campus there was a feeling of calmness that you don’t typically feel in a large school, and this was enhanced by all the greenery and topiary surrounding the buildings. That said, we saw plenty of student activity between lessons such as students ‘hanging out’ in the shaded walkways lined with columns, younger students climbing over tree roots in the play areas, and juniors gathered in the library. There’s plenty of ‘life’ on this campus, and a warm, caring atmosphere.
The campus is divided between the kindergarten, elementary and high schools, each having their own grade-appropriate classrooms and central learning areas. All students then share sports facilities including two swimming pools and learn to swim pool; indoor sports hall used for basketball, badminton and volleyball and other sports; a fitness gym; outdoor tennis courts; and grass playing fields. Outdoor play areas include an adventure playground in the kindergarten, where there were also plenty of muddy puddles to jump in and tree roots to climb over.
Berkeley says: “We like to concentrate on team sports and we’re very passionate about sport here. We’re a small school and we’re often playing against schools with twice as many students. But, for example, our girls’ varsity football team won every single game this season.”
“We’re very lucky to have NBA-standard raised maple flooring in the sports hall, which has been brought over from the US. It’s great to play sport on as it gives.”
Other specialist facilities include a well-stocked library that was buzzing with activity during our visit and an IT lab. We also saw some modern science labs that are due to be refurbished with new equipment; it’s the latest example of how the owners continue to invest in this school.
Berkeley says: “The students produce a weekly Berkeley News in the IT lab. They collect the stories from around campus and broadcast it every Wednesday morning to the big screens in every class.”
On the school’s website, head teacher Lisa Johnson talks about creating opportunities for children to find their passion in “academic, athletic, artistic, social and service areas”. Where the school really seems to shine is in sport and the arts – and Berkeley has the resources available to support a focus on drama, visual arts and music. There’s a 350-seat auditorium and a smaller theatre where KG students perform in plays, and elementary and high school students stage musicals every year; music and dance rooms; and some wonderfully creative art rooms.
From Grades 6-7, it’s compulsory for all students to play in the orchestra, and we saw racks upon racks of violins, violas and other string instruments that are used in the school’s very comprehensive music curriculum. And, judging by the dulcet tones we heard coming from one orchestra class that has been playing for just 10 months together, the students are learning well.
Berkeley says: “When students move into Grade 8 they can stay in the orchestra or move into the rock programme, and we have a lot of rockers at the school!”
We visited the cafeteria where lunch is staggered over two hours to ensure that it doesn’t get overcrowded. There’s a dedicated area for kindergarten students with smaller tables and chairs, and the whole room felt quite grand for a school canteen. As we arrived, staff were laying out a mid-morning snack of jam sandwiches.
Berkeley says: “We’re a fully catered school, and lunch is like an all-you-can eat buffet. It works about THB 90 per day. We have vegan and vegetarian options, meat and fish, a salad bar, rice, vegetables, and fruit. There’s only French fries and ice cream on Fridays!”
We saw plenty of confident, happy students walking around the campus and actively engaged with the teachers in class. While some were dressed in school uniform, others were in the PE uniform, which both looked comfortable and hardwearing.
Berkeley says: “If someone’s on a school sports team and they have a match that day, they can wear their team kit to school for that day so everyone knows that you’re on the team.”
• Grade-appropriate classroom that mature with the student
• Well-equipped specialist rooms
Students need to be in classrooms that inspire them, and Berkeley appears to do this with a variety of spacious rooms that are set up to meet different learning objectives. We saw many bright, well-lit classes, filled with examples of work that students should take pride in. There was flexible seating in most rooms, shared learning areas for the IB’s collaborative-style teaching, and clusters of desks in small groups to encourage teamwork.
The classrooms at kindergarten, elementary and high school levels all look different. In the early grades, rooms are bright, colourful and busy, and there are communal seating areas with soft fabrics where the full class can gather for reading and discussion. They felt engaging and fun. In the high school, the classrooms matured with the student, and we saw stylish study areas, space for private study and less decorated walls.
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