Just before 5 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon the school starts to buzz with anticipation. The cars arrive and the conversation becomes louder, the excitement levels are growing. Parents wave goodbye and drive away, and the children rush with anticipation towards the opening front gate.
I stand with my colleagues and greet every child onto the campus, each pulling a large suitcase full of soon-to-be dirty and well used clothes. The children have tales to tell of their adventures at the weekend. Some are still thinking about their past activities and others eagerly anticipate the events to come. The students take their bags to the dormitory, greet their friends and dormitory parents, and head towards supper.
The events of Sunday evening are prepared for the children. In the auditorium there will be a showing of the movie, The Princess Bride. For the older students there is an opportunity to work independently in the library. Tonight our movie attracts many of our community to join the boarding students. Our movies are selected to develop not only language skills, but also to gain a better understanding of culture from around the world. Each film is shown with subtitles to allow the children an opportunity to understand even further. After the evening’s events are completed, all the students assemble in the canteen for what we call, midnight snack. Once refilled and refreshed, the students head towards the dormitory rooms and prepare themselves for bed and an extremely busy week ahead.
The Week Begins
The boarding students wake up early and slowly head towards their Monday morning breakfast. I sit by the entrance to the canteen and my greetings are returned with a variety of levels of enthusiasm; ranging from the excitable to the depths of those whose souls are still lying in bed. The canteen food at breakfast, however, recharges one and all, and a busy day lies ahead.
At the end of the school day, each of the grades know exactly where they have to be. Some will head towards the library for some private study before supper, others will seek the support of the teachers in student hours, several will be participating in after-school activities. Members of the faculty report for duty in the canteen and have supper with the students.
The boarding program that we have in place is enhanced significantly by the dedication and support of our faculty. On this evening, history teacher Mr. Jarrett will be teaching the grade 5 and 6 and language and academic vocabulary class. Drama teacher Miss Henderson will be managing the film production club for the grade 7 boarding students, and math teacher Miss Makhoabenyane will be supporting the grade 8 and 9 students in the library with math, coaching individuals and supporting any other learning needs. Those students needing access to computers can do so in the IT room and others can access laptops in the library upon request. At 9 p.m. the house meeting sees the students gather together to share their feelings and hear of any news.
Skills for Life
The structure of our boarding programs has been planned meticulously to provide all of our students with the opportunity to develop their social and emotional skills, their teamwork attributes, leadership, as well as academic excellence. The reports written for the students each semester record progress and achievement in the following areas: participation, resilience, independence, academic progress, and emotional development. We have designed a program to enable our graduating students to leave with a comprehensive and wide ranging set of experiences and achievements. We sincerely hope that our students will have the skills to be ready for independent life and successful study at the most prestigious universities in the world. The competition for places at such universities is intense, and we need to create factors and experiences that will make each child stand out in the application. The boarding students have the opportunity to reach beyond their expectations whilst we are doing all we can to ensure that they are happy and safe in all that they do.
In the autumn and winter months, our boarding students are challenged to be even more independent. They are encouraged to enter and participate in a house talent competition. They are required to work in large teams, to lead each other, to participate in the house competition, where they are required to plan and manage their own dance, musical, and theatre production. Last year, the girls narrowly won the performing arts cup.
After another busy day in the classroom, the events of Tuesday evening begin to unravel. From 6 p.m. the grade 5 – 7 students have sporting activities with PE teacher Mr. Diallo and Head of School Dr. Starbuck, such as bench ball, hockey and soccer. Grades 8 and 9 are in supervised study this evening with our college counselor, Mr. Wert. The students have an opportunity to work one-to-one with him and start building the foundations of the college application. Midnight snack in the canteen is always a buzz of noise and excitement, the sharing of experiences both physical and mental, and children supporting each other. At 10 p.m. the lights go out on another day and the new dawn fast approaches.
It’s Wednesday morning and the children bounce across the quad into breakfast and prepare themselves for hard work and achievement. The conversation is bubbling about the events of tonight. Music teacher Miss Milanova is running the boarding choir tonight and there is a new song to learn. Will it be one we all know? Physics teacher Mr. Bourg will be helping–he was in a choir a long time ago. Biology teacher Miss Johnson is happy to be with grade 8 and 9, supporting all their needs with science. But I think she has a great singing voice. I sit outside of the D building and can hear the collection of voices echoing around the campus. We are not quite at the stage of it disturbing the students in the library–not quite yet. The grades 5, 6, and 7 students spend at least two hours every evening in supervised study. They complete their homework assignments, follow the reading schedule, and prepare themselves with review activities for the upcoming examinations.
In our study classrooms there is a level of maturity and sense of purpose that is beyond their young years. Whilst the boarding program has given all our students access to such a variety of extracurricular activity, it has also developed their work ethic, self-management and time organization. The boarding students were tasked when they first arrived in September with one goal: to be the best they can be. Some found this initially very difficult, but with the dedication of the dormitory parents and cooperation of the parents, and the development of new behaviors by the student, so many of our community are now achieving such a value added success, as witnessed by the recent academic awards, dominated by boarding students.
It’s Thursday afternoon, the week is nearly done, and the after-school activities are finished, but it’s now time for ultimate Frisbee and teambuilding with Dean Herman and Mindfulness with Dean Joyner. This is such a lovely opportunity for our Deans to get to know the children closely, to build their relationships with the students, and this will obviously have a huge impact on their achievement in the working day. Director of Student Affairs Mr. Davis, Dr. Russo, Coach Felix, and Mr. Bourg have all been preparing all week for grade 8 and 9 team sports. Today it’s baseball on the field under floodlights. We all watch with such anticipation as so many students exceed their own expectations of their performance, so many have never played before and yet seem to be natural in hitting, throwing, and catching. The laughter and the joy are resounding. The collaboration and interaction between faculty members and students is such a wonderful thing to witness and develops the social skills of our boarding students outside of the classroom setting. Once the game is complete and the thanks have been given to the teachers who have given their time, it’s off to the library to supervised study.
The students spend on average 11 hours a week studying independently or with support from a faculty member. To balance this additional load, we give the children activities to promote their well-being. They play team sports, sing together, work on creative projects, reflect on their strengths and areas for development, as well as build their own relationships within the community.
The boarding program promotes our school values of kindness, courage, respect, responsibility, integrity, and hard work. We aim to make our boarding program the best it can possibly be, and comparable to the highest standards in the United Kingdom and United States. We are building the foundations of an outstanding boarding school through hard work and creativity, and a willingness to take risks. The boarding program is only possible through the collaboration and teamwork of both the faculty and the operations teams. The shared vision and desire to be the best is what motivates us and allows our students to be happy, safe, successful, and ready for life after education.
Jonathan Lewis is the Boarding Director at BASIS International School Nanjing and a member of the founding leadership team at the school.