“I think the decision to transfer Norah to Dipont Huayao Collegiate School (hereinafter as HC) is one of the best decisions our family has made in recent years, big or small”, says Norah’s mother during the interview.
Norah’s parents have put in a lot of efforts in choosing Norah’s education path along the way. Norah attended a prestigious primary school and a private junior high school in Shanghai. At the critical moment of choosing a high school, the family decided to leave the traditional education system and go to an international school because they did not want Norah’s humanistic interests and temperament to be confined by exam-oriented education. However, Norah suffered from a seemingly safe decision after visiting almost all of Shanghai’s international schools.
Therefore, at the end of Grade 10, Norah transferred to HC, where she finally found her place and shined with her unique talents and strength.
How to avoid the “pain of school-choice” that Norah experienced? How did HC become the best decision? Let’s hear from Norah’s mother and herself, who has been studying here for a year.
Connecting classroom and life, start an academic exploration which is not exam-oriented
Before transferring to HC, Norah was in Grade 10 at a famous international high school program known as the “Ivy League Harvester”. When visiting that school for the first time, Norah’s family was swayed by the school’s impressive ranking and chose the school, even though it was a small school and the campus was simple and crude.
But not long after starting at that school, Norah began to feel a kind of mismatch with the school. Norah’s interest has been in humanities ever since childhood. While studying at that school, she took a critical thinking course taught by a philosophy teacher who delivered plenty of useful knowledge in class, and only after a few classes the teacher became Norah’s favorite. Norah was very motivated at the beginning as she met a competent teacher teaching her favorite subject. She would actively speak up at every seminar in class, and when she reviewed her speech after class, she would write another email to supplement it. These emails, however, fell on deaf ears and were never answered. Even if she asked for help after class, the teacher would not spare time to answer her questions.
Norah was very much discouraged and decided to leave that school. She was at a critical stage of exploring her academic interests and what she urgently needed was the attention and guidance from her teachers. Fortunately, she met Anselm Chen, a teacher, after she transferred to HC.
Anselm is a Stanford graduate and Norah’s AP Language teacher. Norah says she can clearly feel Anselm’s strong sense of humanity. His classes are full of new and interesting extended topics for students to explore.
One topic that impressed Norah most was “The influence of the ways and methods of information dissemination on the receivers.” She said she was reading Lu Xun’s “Hometown” when she made the linkage with what Anselm talked about in class. When reading about Xun and Runtu meeting up again when grown up, and Xun having thousands of words “only swirling in the head but not able to spit not”, Norah immediately burst into tears. While being greatly touched, she could not help but remember that in junior high school, “Hometown” was also a required article for exams, but in the examination-oriented system, each paragraph has a corresponding standard answer and not much experience or thinking was needed, and one only had to memorize the answers to get scores.
Norah told us excitedly that her reading experience reminded her of the concepts of “cold communication” and “hot communication” that Anselm mentioned in a topic. Cold communication is similar to the spread of popular information on the Internet today, and information will inevitably lose focus and blur after layers’ transmission. Hot transmission is different. Information is more like a “hot potato” spread wholly from point to point, which is very effective but with less participation.
This is where inspiration comes in — if, as in the past, students are being told the author’s purpose of writing before learning, they would no longer be immersed in the text, and in the case of masterpieces such as Lu Xun’s “Hometown”, reading becomes “knowing what it is but not knowing where it comes from”. In contrast, a really good reading education should refer to “hot communication” where details are fully and effectively perceived, and students are able to feel the purpose and ideas the author wants to convey from reading.
At this point, Norah gently recited the passage from “Hometown” to us: “I have a lot of words that I want to say like a string of pearls: horned chickens, leaping fish, shells, badger…But I felt they were blocked by something, only swirling in the head but not able to spit out. He stood still, his face joyous and desolate. He moved his lips but said nothing. His attitude finally became respectful and rose up to say clearly: ‘My lord…!'” The passion for literature, and the gratitude for the inspiration given by Anselm, comes through via her quiet, steady voice.
Norah remembers well Anselm’s vivid metaphors, which help her keep advanced knowledge firmly in her head, but also apply what she learnt in real life.
Anselm also gave high praises for Norah. “Norah is disciplined and keen to explore,” he said, “She is developing into a fine young scholar.”
From Norah, we can also see that HC provides a broad and solid academic platform for students with different aspirations and personalities.
“One schedule for one student”: friendly competition with good rapport
In addition to academic guidance in the classroom, Norah received full respect for her personality and interests at HC. The “one schedule for one student” approach allows Norah to expand her interests and focus on her specialty while completing the basic credits.
Norah says that she chose quite a few liberal arts courses this year. “I’m so happy to be able to take this many interesting courses of my choice.” Having completed three science courses, Norah only needed to complete one more science course to meet the school’s requirements, so she has plenty of time this year to study the humanity courses, which she loves.
And something interesting happened during course selection. Norah, who describes herself as very greedy, wanted to take six AP courses in different areas like Statistics, English, History, Geography, Psychology, etc. But in order to balance students’ academic pressure, the school doesn’t allow students to take this many courses at the same time. Mr. Anselm, Ms Tang (Norah’s career counsellor) and Dr Shankar (the Head of Academics), all came to talk to Norah. After fully understanding her ideas and abilities, the teachers helped her balance out the course selection.
It can be seen that the school not only provides a great deal of education resources, but also is willing to put students’ interests and personal development in the first place and try its best to meet the students’ needs.
When Norah’s mother first visited HC, she was also impressed by the idea of ” One schedule for one student”, but she was skeptical at the same time because it is very difficult to realize. As it turns out, this is not just a concept raised by HC, but is what happens for every student at HC. Even if only one student signs up for a course, the school will still open classes for him/her. This would not become a reality if not for HC’s impressive teacher-student ratio of 1:6. Backing with sufficient teacher resources, every student can choose the courses they are interested in and get full attention in class like Norah.
Moreover, Norah also made like-minded friends in class. Students study and discuss together, and the academic atmosphere is very active. Norah felt a kind of friendly competition at HC which is different than what she experienced before.
In her previous school, Norah felt great peer pressure surrounded by excellent students from all over the country, which made her bewildered. When she came to HC, she was surrounded by students who had the same interests and could “resonate” with Norah. Of course, everyone studied very hard, but at the same time, they were willing to share information and help each other. In this atmosphere, Norah not only improved herself academically, but also experienced happiness and good rapport in the friendly competition.
Behind this, ” One schedule for one student” is the key: it enables students to move between different classes, forming like-minded connections, and enjoying HC’s unique harmonious atmosphere of “a big family”.
Two lessons learnt after going through confused phase of school choice
It is not hard to see that Norah has shown great interest and talent in the humanities subjects. These interests and talents are respected and further nurtured in HC, but it started with the enlightenment from parents.
One of Norah’s defining traits is her love of reading. She prefers literature, and when she gets a book, she often rereads it several times, with different feelings each time. She is a very calm girl. Although she also uses social media platforms like Xiaohongshu, she can immerse herself in the world of books whenever and wherever she has one in hand.
Norah’s mother says she reads books together with Norah ever since kindergarten. Norah grew up with her mother reading stories to her, and later on was able to read simple picture books, and then books with only words. In the last year of kindergarten, Norah was able to read a whole book on her own. As she grew older, the roles reversed, and Norah began to read more than her mother does, and would recommend books to her mother.
I owe my interest in humanities and social sciences to my father, said Norah. Norah’s father reads just about anything. He tells Norah interesting historical stories after school, which stimulated her curiosity. Later on, Norah came across the “Natural History” magazine in the reading corner and subscribed to it with interest.
Talking about all these, Norah’s mother’s words were tinged with regret. Although Norah’s experience in the traditional education system in her primary and middle school phase made Norah more disciplined, the examination-oriented education also denied some possibilities for Norah. In her mother’s eyes, Norah is a sensitive child with a rich spiritual world. Free growth may be a more suitable way of education for Norah. Therefore, she began to try her best to find an international school that could truly realize “whole-person education”.
The process of choosing a school involves a lot of hard work as well as uncertainty. To find the right fit for Norah, Norah’s mother looked at almost every international school around Shanghai and screened out many established schools. The family went from school to school — Norah taking entrance exams, parents checking out the school’s facilities, curriculum and education philosophy.
Still, says Norah’s mother, “we made an initial mistake choosing between a new school like HC and an old school that had already established itself.” The family visited HC when it was first established, the gorgeous school buildings greatly attracted Norah, and the “whole person education” concept was also in line with Norah’s mother’s expectations. But out of caution, they chose another school with more history.
The cost of mistakes is a year of depression, anxiety, and family conflicts. Fortunately, Norah ended up in HC at the end of her freshman year in high school. Norah’s mom wants to take this opportunity to share some lessons she learned with other parents who are also struggling with school choice:
- Physical school visits are very important. Only through face-to-face communication with teachers and leaders and see for your own eyes the school’s qualifications, hardware and software facilities, can parents truly understand what the school focuses on and what kind of students it hopes to educate. And these three elements are crucial in the current VUCA world.
- School performance ranking lists are impressive at first sight, but experience shows that they are not as straightforward as they seem to be. Parents need to focus on their children instead of the ranking lists. The key is whether the school’s educational philosophy and practices fit with your children. Otherwise, no matter how good the school’s past performance is, it cannot promise to benefit your child.
That’s why Norah’s family chose HC when they decided to leave the previous school. They were deeply impressed by HC’s educational philosophy of “attaching equal importance to academic and personal development”. The American upper school system is also perfect for Norah who wishes to study abroad in the future. And the “one schedule for one student” approach is the best way to maximize Norah’s interests and talents.
What the family saw during the initial school visit has taken root in their hearts. Now, after twists and turns, it becomes a destined two-way choice. Norah’s mother said she was happy to see that Norah felt a strong sense of belonging to HC after here. In addition to academically focused class time, Norah also has made great friends to study and relax with after class. In her spare time, Norah would practice cello, scribble on her notebooks, and set up her dorm room to her liking.
One of the reasons that the family chose HC is that the parents not only value Norah’s academic performance, but also care about whether she can enjoy memorable campus life and build memories of her growth. At HC, the mother sees that her child “not only develops academics but also enjoys her life”.
Now that Norah has finished Grade 11, she is about to make another important life decision as she enters the college application season. Ms. Tang, her career counsellor, has talked with her early on and gave her pertinent suggestions for application based on her personality and academic interests.
Norah, like a hidden jade, slowly shines its own light through HC’s exquisite carving. Not just Norah, each individual student can break out of the cocoon and become a butterfly in this inclusive and fertile land, creating a unique world of their own.