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New building marks start of ambitious plan

Some of the world's top education experts will be on hand on Saturday to help the Western International School of Shanghai celebrate its official inauguration.

The event celebrates the completion of the first building on its campus, as well as the official opening of the Qingpu District school, which admitted its first students for classes on September 6.

The school currently enrolls nursery through grade three students, and will expand to cover all grades up to university within the next two years. It was granted official approval by the Ministry of Education in Beijing in 2004.

Speaking at the inauguration will be Dr Cheng Yan Davis, the first visiting scholar from China to the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education. She is one of China's most widely-recognized education experts. Also attending is Dr Jerome Murphy, former dean of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, as well as several other Ivy League education experts. Representatives of the Ministry of Education, as well as the Shanghai government, will be on hand to celebrate the occasion.

"We are so excited about the inauguration. So much hard work has gone into making this school a special place of learning," said school Director Dr Alfonso Orsini. "The event really celebrates the achievement of a lot of people."

As part of the festivities, students have been practicing skits and entertainment over the last few weeks.

Although there are a number of international schools in Shanghai at present, the Western International School of Shanghai positions itself as a combination of the best education and academics from around the world, with the atmosphere of a small American college-preparatory academy.

Its program is based on the International Baccalaureate model, a well-recognized degree accepted at universities around the world. Instead of basing the education on any one national model, such as British or American, the school curriculum emphasizes the best parts of education from around the world.

"It takes a bit more explaining to the parents, but once they realize how much thought and work have gone into the curriculum, they are completely enthusiastic," said Leslie Tam, director of admissions.

"Many things set WISS apart from other schools," said one parent. "For our family, the most important has been the commitment and integrity of the school board, administration and staff in ensuring that our children received the absolute best education possible in a safe and happy environment."

The school is also one of the few schools to implement the Primary Years Program, an educational model which emphasizes inquiry and discovery in a structured environment. Chinese language lessons are also a daily part of the children's courses.

"Parents and kids really love the fact that we have Chinese classes every day," Tam said.

Small class sizes combined with large classrooms are also one of the big draws, especially in a city where many of the international schools already are at full enrollment.

The inaugural event also marks the beginning of construction of the rest of the campus.

"The US$30 million budget for construction means that we will have the best facilities in Shanghai," Orsini said. "Our first building is a great example - modern and spacious classrooms with beautiful playgrounds for the kids."

The entire campus was designed by German-based Weimar Architects who gave it a clean, modern feel, while making the campus functional for students of all ages. The campus will expand to include student dormitories as well as housing for teachers.


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