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Stamford American International School Hong Kong: An arts education for life

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Ask any teacher at Stamford American International School Hong Kong and they will all agree that their key aim is to instil an enthusiasm for lifelong learning in every student and equip them with the necessary skills for a happy, successful future.

A fundamental part of the school’s strategy in achieving this is the holistic approach it offers to education, balancing core academic learning with specialist subjects such as the arts.

At Stamford, drama, music and art are taught weekly, beginning at age five and continuing all the way through to Grade 8, with lessons designed to not only impart theoretical knowledge but also provide practical opportunities for self-discovery. “Children need to be able to express themselves,” explains head of arts Tina Batchelder- Schwab. “We spend a lot of time helping them to do that, whether through drawing, painting, taking part in a play or learning a musical instrument; we provide a safe environment where they can find their voice.”

Originally from the USA, Tina moved to Hong Kong in 2017 after a three-year stint at Stamford American International School Singapore, bringing with her 24 years of arts education experience. “I’ve been interested in music and the arts from a young age,” says Tina. “It was always going to be a part of my life. I was lucky to be inspired by really great teachers as a child. It didn’t matter where you came from; they believed that everyone was entitled to have a great experience in music education. That has carried with me into my daily teaching, and I aim to bring the same energy and positivity to my own students.”

Tina’s teaching team shares the same ethos. “There are seven teachers in the arts department,” she explains, “all of whom are extremely hard working. They really care about the students, and they give everything to ensure that they receive the highest possible standard of arts education. I feel very lucky to head up this group of dedicated, giving people.”

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Having opened in August 2017, Stamford is now entering its second year as an international school in Hong Kong, and Tina is excited to be building on the incredible start that the arts department got off to last year.

“We built a comprehensive programme based on the needs of our population here in Hong Kong, including concerts, workshops with visiting artists and field trips to the theatre,” she continues. “We also launched co-curricular activities (CCA) including private instrument lessons, which have been extremely popular.”

Other highlights from last year include stand-out performances from both students and staff in some impressive drama and musical productions.

“Our biggest production last year was Annie,” says Tina. “It brought the entire school community together, with both performances full. That to me was a sign of the wonderful community spirit here at Stamford. When you have parents coming to see a show whether their child is in it or not, you know you have a great community.

“The kids did a great job too. For many, it was their first experience of being in a musical. To see students who have never done this before be brave enough to put themselves out there was incredible. It was such a step forward from where they started last September. Being an international school, we have a number of students who are still learning English. To watch them stand up there and speak lines clearly and with confidence, to know and understand exactly what they were saying – that is truly inspiring.”

Building confidence in her students is something Tina sees as vital in her role as an educator, and one in which the arts plays a crucial part. “Arts lessons offer a level playing field for students,” she remarks. “Every child can participate, no matter what their ability level is. Everyone can pick up a paint brush, everyone can express using mime; we provide students with a place they can feel comfortable to take risks.

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“Group work is important too, as well as inquiry-based learning. Whether working together in a drama class or as part of a musical ensemble, we help students think outside of themselves as an individual and teach them how to interact with other people. That’s a really important part of development and something that the children can take with them to their other lessons. But it actually goes further than that – these are key skills for life beyond school. We’re preparing children for their future.”

The strategy certainly seems to be working, and Tina says the children are all eagerly awaiting news of this year’s big production. “I don’t know what it will be yet,” she says with a grin. “But I already have children asking when they can audition. We’ve also seen huge growth in our CCA signups, so much so that we’ve had to add even more classes to the schedule.”

In closing, Tina says that a major element of Stamford’s success in the arts is down to the support the management team shows to its staff. “If we need an instrument or equipment for The Arena [the school’s impressive performance area], we can get it. We feel very supported in being able to provide our students with the tools they need to learn. We all work as a team to nurture their talents and help them be the best that they can be.”


To find out more about arts education at Stamford, visit www.sais.edu.hk.


Photos courtesy of Stamford American International School Hong Kong

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