“our talented, highly qualified educators … believe that our young people are capable of incredible things”

The best start

Schools that put your child first


FEBRUARY 2021 Industry Perspectives / Text by Toby Waters

Whether they’re starting out at pre-school or moving into a new school, your child deserves to get the best possible start to their education.

Best foot forward

From day one, children can expect a well-rounded learning experience at Gymboree Play & Music.

“At Gymboree, we provide children, from infants to nine-year-olds, with experiences that build self-esteem as well as physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and communication skills,” says Elena Carrick, programme trainer. “The combination of our unique play-based gym, music and art classes, and English study activities holds a child’s attention while instilling a love of learning.”

St. Alban’s Nursery believes in children learning at their own pace, says Gilma Yamamoto-Copeland, nursery director.

“At St. Alban’s, we take a holistic approach inspired by the Montessori method. We ensure that each child has the opportunity to develop at their own pace,” she explains. “We challenge our children by setting individual goals to foster personal and academic growth and to help them become confident and responsible individual learners.”

Laurent Wajnberg, headmaster of LFI Tokyo, is proud of his school’s annual ‘fresh start’ approach.

“Each year, LFI Tokyo’s students are assigned new teachers, who explain their methods and the objectives that will be implemented and achieved in class during the school year,” he says. “These teachers develop new methods and try different learning approaches to best structure their students’ education.”

The French–Japanese International School (EIFJ) prides itself on its teachers’ ability to pay close attention to each student’s needs.

“Our Tokyo-based French Japanese International School differentiates itself by placing students in small — typically single-grade — bilingual and trilingual classes,” says Fabien E. Levet, the founder and principal. “With year-round student enrolment, our highly accredited staff is adept at facilitating students’ fast integration into our classes and cultivating greater communication skills, while offering more STEM, art, sports, musical experiences, events, and field trips.”

UWC ISAK Japan begins preparing its students even before they attend school.

“From the moment of admittance to arrival day in August at our Karuizawa campus, we work closely with students — and their families — to prepare them for the unique aspects of living and learning at Japan’s only full-boarding international high school, including everything from curriculum to campus life,” says Rod Jemison, head of school.

The New International School in Japan encourages children of different ages to connect with each other in the classroom.

“At whatever age our students join us, from age three to Grade 12, they learn from where they are developmentally without being compared to others in highly interactive, multi-age (three-year age-range) classes,” says Steven Parr, founding director and head of school. “All subjects are taught in both English and Japanese, and students can use any other languages they know in the learning process, as well.”

Placing students in surroundings that will let them flourish is key to success, says Gill Tyrer, head of school at St. Michael’s International School (SMIS).

“SMIS believes that our learners deserve to receive the very best educational experience possible in a caring, nurturing environment,” she says. “This starts by providing the highest quality of teaching possible, delivered by our talented, highly qualified educators who believe that our young people are capable of incredible things.”

Children first

Parr highlights New International School of Japan’s emphasis on a low student-to-teacher ratio as a means to achieve excellence.

“We have two teachers per class (or four per subject in our secondary school), whose primary responsibility is to educate their students in both English and Japanese, in all subjects, in multi-age classrooms using a thematic approach and the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence,” he says.

Cultivating positive attitudes that will serve children well for life is a key goal of St. Alban’s Nursery.

“Our teachers’ main priority is to foster empathy and kindness towards others. We are a small school that enjoys working together as a family,” Yamamoto-Copeland says. “And our mixed-aged, multinational classes allow us to naturally teach the value of understanding others, and show that it’s our differences that make us special.”

In difficult times, Musashi International School makes it clear that students’ well-being is at the forefront of its educators’ minds.

“The top priority for our teachers is to ensure that all our students are safe and secure —   emotionally, mentally, and physically,” says Edward Gilbreath, the head of school. “With this as a foundation, our teachers work to forge strong relationships with their students, in order for the children to be successful in their education.”

Paul Fradale, head of the Hikarigaoka campus of Aoba-Japan International School, says that his school prioritises individualised learning that incentivises taking chances.

“Our teachers’ highest priority is to create a safe learning environment where students can take risks, learn from their mistakes, and develop mutual respect,” he says. “They personalise students’ education by shifting from a teacher-driven model to one in which the students have control of the path, pace, and place of learning.”

Always changing

It’s important for schools to change with the times to give students the best opportunities.  Gymboree Play & Music is no exception, says Nicole Yamada, school vice president.

“In 2021, we will be adding new technology to our tried-and-true learning techniques to further engage the minds of our preschool and after-school students,” she says. “We will be introducing reading and phonics apps to our preschool programme and coding robots and apps to our after-school programmes.”

Kacie Leviton, the marketing and communications manager at Nishimachi International School explains its focus on developing open attitudes.

“One of our main areas of focus this year is on global citizenship. Students, teachers and staff explore questions such as, What do we learn from other cultures?, How well do we understand other cultures?, How do we address cultural bias?,” she says. “We want Nishimachi students to think globally, value differences, and show compassion.”

UWC ISAK Japan has been expanding its educational efforts in the face of adversity.

“2020 was a year that tested our resilience and adaptability. But it also challenged us to try innovative approaches and launch new programmes, including ISAKx and Winter School, which earned a 100% satisfaction rating,” Jemison says. “In 2021, students and parents can expect more innovation and new offerings from UWC ISAK Japan.”

EIFJ is looking ahead to further expand its curriculum.

“We have applied for International Baccalaureate accreditation in order to internationalise the school’s already comprehensive French education ministry-style bilingual curriculum,” Levet says. “We teach our students to think objectively, behave responsibly, shape their own views, and respect others, as well as how to determine their life goals and be successful in reaching them.”

Musashi International School is in the process of adopting a world-leading syllabus.

“Our kindergarten teachers are creating play-based learning programmes using the early years foundation stage curriculum from the UK,” Gilbreath says. “This year will be our second using the Cambridge Primary Curriculum, and we will use Cambridge Checkpoint exams to evaluate the level of our students’ educational performance.”

Staying safe

The pandemic has presented challenges to all schools. Fradale highlights his school’s efforts to facilitate learning during this difficult time.

“Aoba-Japan has dealt with the challenges of Covid-19 by embracing ‘blended learning’, which is comprised of face-to-face teaching and synchronous and asynchronous online learning,” he says. “We are continuing to develop our multi-age learning models in specific subject areas. These will afford us greater flexibility to meet our students’ developmental needs.”

LFI Tokyo has instituted a rigorous protocol to keep students safe at school.

“We have implemented all the measures recommended by the Japanese health authorities: safe spacing of desks, reduced or adjusted activities to avoid close contact with others, mask-wearing, circulation of air in classrooms, and regular disinfecting of hands,” Wajnberg says. “In addition, any students who display symptoms of illness must stay at home.”

SMIS has taken similar actions, says Tyrer.

“SMIS prioritises collective responsibility for health and hygiene, and monitors the health of children, families, and staff daily,” she explains. “Arrival, departure, and lunch times have been adjusted to ensure social distancing, while mask-wearing and hand-washing have become central to school life. Adult visitors are closely monitored using a digital sign-in system.”

Nishimachi International School has been highly reactive to recent changes in case numbers.

“Nishimachi started the school year with safety protocols in place to facilitate on-campus learning. Students adapted well to wearing masks, sanitising hands frequently, and eating lunch without talking,” Leviton says. “As the number of Covid-19 cases rose, our middle school students switched to hybrid learning to ensure physical distancing could be maintained.”

A good start in learning is a good start in life.