VERSO International School is a new all-through school for Bangkok that promises to be a “school of the future”.
This all-through school offers an American standards-based curriculum with a strong focus on project-based learning. Located on a 30-acre, purpose-built campus located next to Thana City Golf and Country Club, VERSO is open for students in early years (2 year olds) up to Grade 8 in 2020, with the Grades 9 – 12 opening in August 2021; its full capacity will be 1,800 students.
VERSO offers an “innovative and highly progressive curriculum”, which is a US-style curriculum that’s aligned with New York State’s Educational Standards. The school promises learning beyond the classroom walls; project-based learning; a focus on decision-making skills; and opportunities for students to “share their learning through regular public exhibitions and showcase events”.
In common with the many International Baccalaureate schools in Bangkok, VERSO focuses on project-based learning. As we’re seeing in many schools, teaching moves away from the front of the classroom; instead students will spend around 70% of the school day working on project-based learning. And rather than breaking up the day into subject blocks, VERSO’s timetable is structured around learning elements including self-directed learning, practical workshops, cross-curricular lessons, community time, and one-on-one sessions.
VERSO opened in the same year as another British all-through schools – King’s College International School Bangkok – and the schools couldn’t be more different. In contrast to the traditional, British public-school curriculum delivered at King’s College, VERSO offers a new model of education.
This is a school where teachers are more like mentors guiding students through activities and topics of interest; students are divided into mixed-age cohorts rather than traditional single grade levels; and students can choose their own curriculum in a very personalized-style of education.
Teachers (learning designers) lead a cohort, which combines students from two grade levels. There can be drawbacks to this model of mixed-age classes; younger learners may be intimidated by older students in their class, and older students could feel held back. However, there are benefits, such as giving students a longer time with the same teacher who can then understand their individual needs.
The school is flipping the traditional style of schooling to deliver “an innovative educational choice that will truly prepare children for the future” – and the design of the school makes a huge contribution to this. VERSO has partnered with IDEO to design an Apple-style campus that “reimagines what a school of the future would look like”.
With its uniquely-designed looped buildings, VERSO moves away from the confines of a traditional classroom – and it will be interesting to see just how the school uses this to enhance learning.
Class sizes range from 2 to 20 students in early years up to 24 in Grades 1 – 12.
The school is a joint-venture partnership between U City (Bangkok) and a Hong Kong private investor.
Head of school is Cameron Fox. Originally from Scotland, Fox has lived and worked in Hong Kong since 1993, and for the past 14 years has been the head of school at the American International School of Hong Kong. AIS has a 30-year track record of delivering a college-prep education, and is one of only a very few international schools in Hong Kong to offer the full AP programme.
Recruited from the US, Australia, New Zealand, and across South East Asia, VERSO’s ‘learning design team’ have the academic credentials and an ambition to challenge the status quo in teaching. As one teacher, says, “Joining VERSO means stepping out of your comfort zone to make real change happen."
The campus in Bang Na is described by the school as an “inspirational futuristic campus with uniquely designed looped buildings”. The school is divided into three ‘doughnut’ shaped buildings – the Lower Loop (Early Years 2 – Grade 4), Middle Loop (Grades 5 – 8) and Upper Loop (Grades 9 – 12).
The Lower Loop (Early Years – Grade 4) has classrooms, learning commons, studio spaces for art/science/design, an indoor pool, and multi-purpose gym. The Middle Loop (Grades 5 – 8) is home to flexible classrooms, learning commons, active spaces, science labs, maker spaces, and communal areas. In the college-style Upper Loop (Grades 9 – 12) there are flexible classrooms, project spaces, learning commons, university-level science labs, design labs, makerspaces, and community spaces.
At the heart of the campus is a lake, which is surrounded by sports facilities including an Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool, a junior indoor pool, gymnasium and fitness centre, 1,000-seater athletics stadium, full-size soccer pitch, training pitch, and tennis and basketball courts.
Here’s one of the most novel versions of a schools-within-a-school model, which can be seen at many larger all-through campuses. Each ‘loop’ is a standalone learning space with its own sports facilities, which helps to create a focused, age-appropriate learning environment for different age groups.
There is a risk that such a school could lack the sense of community we see at smaller campuses; however, students are brought together in The Hub, which is home to dance studios, music practice rooms, science labs, art and multimedia studios, and exhibition spaces. There’s also a co-working space for VERSO’s teachers to share their ideas, which could help to keep the school well-connected.
VERSO has some of the highest annual tuition fees in Thailand, ranging from THB 600,000 to 960,000.
VERSO is opening in a very unusual time, though. It’s not an easy year to open a new school and, a sign of the challenging market conditions, VERSO has already decided to waive its tuition fees for the upcoming academic year (2020/21) for eligible students; it’s also offering a 50% reduction in tuition fees for the 2021/22 academic year.
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