Exploring New Possibilities at Frontier Primary School
Thursday, February 23, 2012
"Teacher, do you know that I have been eyeing the playground from my house since last year?"
Hearing such eager sentiments from her pupils hardly surprises Mrs Gladys Tan, form tutor of a Primary 1 class at Frontier Primary School. This year, the school welcomed its pioneer batch of 240 Pri 1 pupils at its purpose-built campus in Jurong West. It is the first of 11 primary schools to be built with the enhanced facilities recommended by MOE's Primary Education Review and Implementation (PERI) Committee, and is a single-session school as well.
Frontier Primary School's impressive line-up of facilities includes an indoor sports hall, synthetic turf field, music studio, dance studio, band room, school library with a mini-stage for drama performances and soon, an eco-garden where learning can take place outside the classroom.
The classrooms themselves are a marvel, too. Every classroom has a sink where pupils can wash their hands after art and craft lessons. In addition to promoting hygiene, the sink is also useful when teachers have to check pupils' temperature, or for washing up after the class shares a simple meal together, as the Pri 1 pupils did during orientation week in January.
Classrooms also share a collapsible wall, giving teachers the flexibility to create a bigger space for performances and interaction. "It can also facilitate English STELLAR lessons because we can have different stations, such as for reading or listening without having to move the furniture," explains Mrs Tan.
Another keenly anticipated facility, which will begin operating in the second semester this year, is the after-school care centre. Located within the school premises, it is the size of two classrooms and has a capacity for 50 students. "Parents can feel safe because pupils will remain in a familiar environment after school," says Vice-Principal Mrs Lim-Foo Boon Ching. "Also, form teachers can work with the vendors [operating the after-school care centre] to give follow-up attention to a child who may have some issues in class."
More space, more opportunities
The school has introduced the latest and most applicable information technology tools for all teachers. Mdm Azlinda Bakar, co-form Tutor of a Pri 1 class and Subject Head for Mathematics, describes the various gadgets at her disposal: "With the wireless microphone, you just switch it on, tune it to the corresponding frequency in each class and it can work anywhere. With the wireless projector, our laptops can be used for mobile presentations. We have a mobile card programme where 20 laptops can be signed out per class. The children can do group work, with the end product projected to the screen from wherever they are sitting."
With a single-session timetable, the teachers can fully maximise their use of the school facilities because rooms are available in the afternoons as well. "We can adopt an approach towards differentiated learning by splitting the class into different groups or offering more programmes," shares Mrs Lim-Foo. Adds Mrs Tan, "We are also looking at organising a zoo outing where the whole school can go together at the same time. This will be good for school bonding, and we plan to invite parents as well."
The single-session timetable also facilitates discussion and bonding among the school staff, who hail from different schools and prior teaching experiences. "Operating in single session helps because in the afternoon we can talk through certain things," points out Mrs Lim-Foo. "Are our programmes working? What else do we need to do so the students are able to adapt to the new phase in their lives? To foster a sense of ownership, we are deliberate about thinking fresh from the perspective of a new school to come up with our own routines."
A different kind of orientation
One new routine that the school has tried out successfully is a fresh approach to Pri 1 orientation. While the pioneer batch of Pri 1 pupils do not have seniors to guide them, they have enjoyed a greater sense of independence since the first day of school. Mrs Lim-Foo recounts that the school allowed parents to be present in school only for the first two days of school and even so, parents could only go to the parade square. "After the flag-raising ceremony, the parents had to leave. We told them the children will be in the care of the teachers and the pupils went back to their classrooms."
What happened in the classroom was unlike other primary school orientation programmes. The activities of the first week of school focused on arts and crafts. Mrs Lim-Foo says, "Art is a common language for all that comes before literacy and numeracy, so we used it to get pupils to talk about themselves and their families." Pupils made art using family photos and craft materials, and learned that the school was also part of their family.
On the last day of orientation, parents returned to the school to watch a performance by the pupils with their new classmates, view the artwork they had made and also visit the classrooms. "A lot of schools don't allow parents into the classrooms," says Mrs Lim-Foo. "The interaction is always at the canteen. We wanted to demystify the classrooms. We shared with parents that these are your child's classmates, these are the friends he or she has been mentioning to you. This is the teacher who is going to take care of him or her. You have a chance to talk to the teacher in a very natural context of the classroom, not separately in a canteen or staff room."
Frontier Primary School's approach to orientation and other school activities has made an impact on the parents of its pupils. "At first the parents were surprised at how differently things were done here and wondered why we wouldn't allow them to come into the school," notes Mrs Lim-Foo. "But at the end of the orientation week, they left the school feeling assured that the school would take care of their children."
Concludes Principal Mr Koh Chin Thong, Martin, "There are more opportunities for us to build very strong collegiality. Conversations will continue because we are still planning for the school three to six years down the road." Concurring, Mrs Lim-Boon adds, "With fresh students and this energetic school team, what continues to inspire me about our new school is the sheer extent of possibilities open to us."