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October 26, 2011

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Building solid foundation at WISS

WHEN you step into an Early Years' classroom at the Western International School of Shanghai, you are met with enthusiasm and color. Interaction, learning and play combine to create an inviting and engaging environment for children at this key stage of their learning.

Although WISS runs the complete International Baccalaureate Program, all the way through to the Diploma Program in Grades 11 and 12, the school dedicates a complete building to Early Years' students, who range in age from two and a half to six years. The building provides a safe, caring, supportive setting with facilities designed specifically for the students' needs.

It has a spacious outdoor area, playground facilities, large classrooms and individual dining areas for each Grade level. It also houses an activities room, a music studio, and is only a short distance from a ballet and gymnastics room, the swimming pool and from the library, which is situated in the Primary and Secondary building.

The faculty forms the foundation of any school, and WISS is proud of their dedicated, enthusiastic and highly qualified teachers.

Fiona Morris, the Early Years principal, who has extensive experience in international education in Europe and Asia, outlines the philosophy of Early Years: "We focus on educating the whole child. It is our responsibility as educators to recognize and maximize this crucial stage of learning."

WISS as a whole has a student to teacher ratio of 1:6, reported to be one of the lowest among international schools within Shanghai, and in the Early Years building each class benefits from at least two teachers. The Nursery classes, moreover, each have their own assistants, and Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten have assistants in their grade level. In addition, specialist teachers for music, physical education and art, all with experience and expertise in teaching Early Years' age groups, offer young learners an array of diverse activities. The Chinese teachers offer Mandarin to all age groups, allowing Mandarin to be incorporated into each day's schedule, according to the student's age and ability with the language.

The inquiry-based curriculum fosters the curiosity and interest of young learners, encouraging them to learn, as Morris explains, as they "question, discover and explore."

Recognizing that each stage of a child's education deserves its own strategies and care, the curriculum and staff for the Early Years provides, in Morris's words, "the appropriate challenges for the youngest members of our school community. Our committed staff differentiates learning experiences so that the students are immersed in interactive, practical and exciting activities. Our teachers provide opportunities for the students to ask questions and to inquire into different aspects of the curriculum through hands-on activities."

The resources of the WISS Early Years Program compliment and support the philosophy and enthusiasm of their staff. Educational materials and classroom resources are sourced internationally and ordered with the specific Units of Inquiry in mind, allowing young learners access to everything they need as they explore, discover and learn.

The classrooms are also fitted with interactive whiteboards and computers, integrating technology into the curriculum and depicting the future-orientated education that WISS models. Learning, moreover, is not classroom bound but extends to the large outdoor areas of the beautiful campus. A new, soft-play surface and exciting climbing equipment that varies in design and skill-level provide students a safe and secure, age specific play and discovery area. Within this regular access to the outdoors, is the focus on physical education.

They not only have regular PE classes, but also students from as early as kindergarten take part in weekly swimming lessons.

With all these aspects in mind, the core focus still comes back to the importance and strength of the curriculum, with Morris concluding, "Starting with the program from as young as two and half years of age, helps create strong foundations to build upon; the students experience the Primary Years Program from the ground up, and fully explore the fundamentals of the IB. The adaptability of the program also makes it possible to meet the varying needs of the students, all of whom bring to the classroom unique backgrounds, experiences and interests."


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