Kate Davies takes a tour of Parkview International Pre-School.
If you’ve ever driven into the Parkview complex at the top of Tai Tam Reservoir Road, you may have seen the double doors immediately on your right. If you peek through them, there’s not a lot to see apart from a rather pedestrian looking lift lobby, but if you take the lift one floor down you enter Parkview’s International Pre-School (PIPS) – and it’s certainly a long way from ordinary.
The walls and floors are painted in vibrant colours, student’s artwork and projects are proudly displayed around the rooms and the sound of young children laughing and playing fills the air. This is clearly a happy place.
The principal, Mary Scarborough, greets me with a warm smile. She looks completely at ease with being in charge of the Parkview and Kowloon campuses of PIPS, but that may be due to having more than three decades of Early Learning experience under her belt. (There is another branch called Rhine Garden in the New Territories that falls under the PIPS umbrella of schools but I am told it operates quite independently from its two more urban sisters).
Scarborough tells me that PIPs began in this very spot 26 years ago. Aptly named after its location, its Kowloon counterpart was created in 2007. Both are authorized International Baccalaureate (IB) World Schools that follow the Primary Years Programme (PYP) for children from one to six years old. And that includes playgroup through K1 to K3. Classes are taught in English and Putonghua in both schools with the option also of Cantonese at the Kowloon campus.
According to Scarborough, this tri-lingual option is to cater for those students who will continue their studies in local schools, although there are change and some students who were perhaps headed into the local system often carry on with their classmates into international schools.
“The parents seem to like the play-based teaching system that we use,” says Scarborough. “We don’t have a lot of homework and we don’t have that kind of pressurized kind of set-up that some kindergartens do have. So I think the parents like that and then they think, ‘Well, I really want this to continue.’”
In keeping with the IB ideology, the school’s aim according to its mission statement is to: encourage responsible, respectful, reflective practices along with intercultural understanding to promote compassionate, global citizens.
This, Scarborough tells me, is mirrored not just in what they teach but in the way they teach it. She tells me the teachers listen to, respect and encourage the children to be chatty. “People are usually struck when they come here. They say the children seem really confident, curious and want to talk to the people who visit.”
This conversational outlook is very much a welcome product of the inquiry based curriculum. At the beginning of a unit of inquiry children are asked to speak up and contribute what they know about a subject so teachers can build on that knowledge and, as Scarborough explains, challenge the children on the right level.
“I’m always amazed at what the children can do, what they’re interested in and what they produce,” she says.
On the tour of the Parkview campus, children’s projects were displayed everywhere, from paintings of animal habitats, to collages of leaves and things found in nature.
In the library amongst the English and Chinese books were also books that some of the students had made as part of a unit of inquiry titled, ‘Imagination and learning can be inspired by books’.
The school also places emphasis on educating the children about being eco-friendly. There are appointed ‘Green Ambassadors’ who are in charge of making sure the lights are turned off when a classroom is not in use. Part of this environmental learning is also played out in the garden where children find out about plants and even have a go at some gardening themselves – you can never grow green fingers too young. The garden is situated in the large outdoor area to the back of the school, alongside a play space, sandpit and climbing gym. There is also an intriguingly named “exploratorium” where the play equipment changes every week.
The Parkview campus also boasts an indoor play area, a dedicated music room, a cookery room and animal corner where their most famous resident, Pancake the guinea pig, lives during the week. She spends her weekends hanging out at various student’s houses.
“It’s part of an effort to offer the kids the broadest experience we can with the resources we have,” says Scarborough. This point is echoed in her ‘Principal’s Message’ on the PIPS website where she writes: our principal aims are to provide a safe and caring environment with rich and varied educational experiences so that the children in our school can flourish, grow, learn and fulfill their potential in every way.
This is again underlined with the option of extra-curricular activities on top of regular classes. These include Kung Fu, phonics, drama, piano, Chinese writing, sports and cooking. Scarborough also tells me there are English and Putonghua enhancement classes for those who may need them.
As my tour wraps up and I hand my visitor’s badge back, I think of all the times I’ve driven into Parkview and not thought much about what was behind those double doors. It turns out there is a vibrant, colourful world of learning happening just one floor down.
What you need to know
PIPS Hong Kong is an authorized International Baccalaureate (IB) World School.
PIPS Kowloon became an IB candidate school in 2014, and is aiming to achieve full accreditation this year.
PIPS educates students from one to six years, beginning with Playgroup (accompanied, one to two years).
From age two onwards, the school follows an inquiry-based Primary Year Programme (PYP) curriculum, beginning with Pre-Nursery (half-day, two to three years), Nursery (half-day, three to four years), Lower Kindergarten (full-day, four to five years) and Preparatory (full-day, five to six years).
Half-day optional enhancement programmes in English and Putonghua are offered as afternoon classes to three to four year olds.
For more information, see www.pips.edu.hk. Learn more about Mary Scarborough, PIPS’s head teacher in her interview with Kate Davies here: http://expat-parent.com/2017/05/10/principals-office-kate-davies-with-mary-scarborough-head-teacher-at-pips/