Rebecca Simpson takes a tour
Beacon Hill School is an inclusive, happy school. People always comment on that. And we’re proud to be on the leading edge of learning technology,” replies Principal Mr James Harrison when I asked him what makes his school special. Beacon Hill School is a place where the individual needs of each student are met, whether that’s extra support, more challenging work, guidance on creative expression or the chance to make a difference in the community. Whatever the child’s need, Beacon Hill School, situated in Kowloon Tong, seems to have it covered.
Teaching with technology
There’s no denying technology has a starring role in our day to day lives. At Beacon Hill School, technology also has a starring role in the classroom. “We’re very well equipped with IT, we have Chrome Books for each student from Years 4 – 6”, says Harrison. That will be extended to Year 3 shortly. Each dedicated computer is used by a single student throughout the entire school year”. The school has a legacy of learning technology with the current ESF Learning Technology Advisor being a previous teacher at the school. “This year we’ve introduced 3D printing”, explains Harrison. “The students design their creations on an iPad and then they’re able to print them out on campus. That’s new for the students to explore this year, they love it!”. The students even have a dedicated, colour-filled room kitted out with 3D printers, a stack of iPads and lots of space to get creative. The room looks more like a space created for a San Francisco tech company than a Hong Kong school. Far removed from a traditional learning space, it’s filled with colourful padded seating, whiteboard walls for brainstorming and a stack of student-made 3D prints adorn the windowsill. Hong Kong’s next generation of techpreneurs may well be born from Beacon Hill School.
An inclusive and caring community
Beacon Hill is well known throughout the ESF network and beyond for their inclusive nature, and their work with special needs children. Across the school they have over 20 students with more moderate to severe learning difficulties. Each special needs student is fully integrated into the mainstream classroom, thanks to a lot of extra support. The school has a special needs department and a Head of Special Needs, Belinda McLaughlin, who oversees the programme. McLaughlin works with classroom teachers to adapt lessons for students when necessary, and also provides guidance to the special needs teachers and assistants. Within the special needs department there are three additional learning support teachers and another three additional learning support educational assistants. “Our size is the perfect size for a primary school and everybody knows everybody”, reflects Harrison. “Even though our catchment area is quite elongated, we still have a strong sense of community. When you walk through the school door you get that buzz of excitement, it’s a happy school. Beacon Hill School students are also actively working to bring their unique brand of happiness to the wider community. Students meet once a week for an after school club called MAD Club (Make a Difference), where they get involved with activities and help their community. In February, the school collected spare lai see packets for charity, and they’ve been involved in beach clean ups along with other volunteer activities. The Year 3 students visited the Crossroads Foundation in February and learned about refugees as part of their unit of inquiry. They’ve worked together to collect toiletries and food from students throughout the school, collating their donations and sending them to others in need.
Budding green thumbs
“We try to involve the students in regular green initiatives. In fact, every Monday we kick off the week with GREEN time. That’s Go Reduce Energy Efficiently Now, an energysaving activity where we return to class from our assembly and turn off everything we’re not using,” shares Mr Harrison. “The students drive GREEN time and they even came up with the clever acronym!” Beyond GREEN time, the week is punctuated with a slew of other environmental initiatives including recycling in classrooms and on the playground; composting students’ fruit waste on ‘Fruit Friday’ via specific composting bins; fundraising initiatives at the school’s International Food Fair; and the Entrack program that helps students monitor the school’s energy consumption. The Beacon Hill School Green Team is a student group that meet weekly to discuss the school’s environmental efforts, with a focus on including students from all year levels. The older students work to create puzzles and activities that deliver important green messages for the younger students. The school’s resident green thumb, Paul Melsom, visits the school regularly to engage the students in planting efforts. The kids love to get busy in the community gardens within the school grounds.
Well-rounded high achievers
Beacon Hill School’s approach to learning is clearly effective. It is home to children who are achieving impressive feats across the entire spectrum of learning, from maths to creative arts. “The arts is a strong focus here, we are always encouraging our students to participate in musical endeavours”, says Harrison proudly. “Some of our Year 6 students were main characters in The Sound of Music last year in Hong Kong. Musically, Beacon Hill School kids do well in secondary school, we even have exstudents come back to the school to perform for us.”. Fusing the school’s passion for technology and its fun approach to academics, students have participated in a next-generation online science competition. Student Ryan Zhang competed against children from different parts of the world to be crowned world champion. A great academic feat, achieved with a fun technology twist on the traditional approach to science. “Kids have such a lot of fun here, they love it, they love coming to school”, says Harrison. “Learning has got to be fun or it becomes twice as hard”.