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Choosing a School - Speaking from Experience

May, 2012
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Moving is never easy, and finding a school for your child can be the hardest part of all. Why don’t we learn from the experiences of other families? Three moms of Concordia International School Shanghai talk to LittleStar about their school search, offering some great ideas on how to find a perfect match for your children’s education needs. 

Jihann Pedersen, mother of 5-year-old twin sisters Maya and Isabella, who are now attending Pre-K 4 at Concordia.


Although her girls just turned five years old, this is already their second international school. During the time the family was living in Panama, Pedersen sent her daughters to an international school there.

“My husband is Danish. Given the fact that my husband and I are multicultural couple, we always knew that our girls’ education would be in English to have a common ground or a common language,” she said. In fact, this is the second time that Pedersen’s family has lived in Shanghai. They were here in 2003 to 2007. “As we left the international life in Shanghai, we decided to make sure the girls attend an international at least. They will find children of multicultural families as well, being able to identify with their peers. I just want them to be with children who are like them – with similar backgrounds.”

When Pedersen and her husband found out they will come back to Shanghai last October, she contacted her good friend in Shanghai asking for help to find a school for her daughters Through this and online research, she narrowed the list down to 3 schools. From there, she started contacting the schools, visiting and talking to the admissions people…

“I did talk to several people when touring the campuses, but every parent feels very strongly about the school their children attend. It’s very personal and subjective,” said Pedersen. She finally decided to go with her own gut feeling. “Firstly, the ideal school needs to be a place where I feel my children would be happy; secondly, the school provides the values that are important to me; and, the curricula and emphasis on creating a holistic learning experience in academics, sports, art and everything else.” 

Marina Au, from Hong Kong, is a long-term Concordia parent.

marina-auAu has lived in Shanghai for 15 years. Her 3 children – 2 girls and 1 boy – are all studying at Concordia in Middle School and High School.

“This is the first school, first international school and first school outside my boundaries because I was educated in Hong Kong,” Au said of her school choosing experience, admitting that American system of Concordia was once a real challenge for her. Before she made the decision to send her children to Concordia, Au visited over 20 schools in Shanghai.

“As an expatriate, you never know when you will re-expatriate to somewhere else. So, we were not sure what we should choose: should we go into the local Chinese stream? Or should we join an international school? Or should we choose the international division in a local school? Then she visited different types of schools to find out. At that time Au’s family was living in Hongqiao, Puxi, so Concordia was the last school she visited.

“To me, teachers as role models to kids are very important. When I visited the schools, I was observing how the teachers were dealing with kids in the classroom. I wanted to find a school where my kids will feel comfortable at and enjoy learning,” explained Au. “When I visited Concordia preschool, my little girl went into the classroom, the other kids just came around her and they were holding my daughter’s hands and my kid just let them do it. Then it was the recess time and she just followed them to go play outside. At that moment I felt she was in the right place.”

Huguette Lewis is a school mom and also a teacher at Concordia International School Shanghai.

huguette-lewisShe is teaching Middle School as an Instruction Coach and her husband is the Middle School Principal. Lewis couple had worked at international schools in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia before joining Concordia 9 years ago. Their two children are also attending Concordia, the girl in 7th grade and the boy in 9th grade.

“In terms of international school, the quality of instruction is so much better than back in a public school in Canada. International schools like Concordia provide so many opportunities and our children are a lot more open-minded. We have lived here for 9 years and the kids really see Shanghai as their home,” said Lewis.

“We came here because of our job as educators. We looked for schools that have a strong curriculum, accreditations and good reputation,” said Lewis. She remembered at that time Concordia was still quite small compared with her previous school that had over 1,500 students. “We went online and found the school philosophy, and its mission to be an excellent international school really impressed us. So we came and we were pleasantly surprised. Our children really like the school and we are happy to stay on and witness the continuing progress year by year.”

“Concordia is a school that truly focuses on the children. We are seriously looking at what is important as a school to provide to them. Whatever decision we make (in the school choice), it is always important to know the school focuses on the children. That kind of school is where we want to be and where we want our children to be.”

Lewis also likes the active and involving school community of Concordia. Everyday, parents are seen helping out on campus; while in the evenings or on the weekends, a lot of activities are going on. “Parents are very much part of the school’s success,” she said.


Pedersen, Au and Lewis are all happy with their school choices, though they come from different backgrounds and have different needs and expectations. Evaluating a new school can be overwhelming for any family when in a new country and far from home. However, it can be a bit easier if we can learn something from their experiences:

A child’s needs are top priority, so know your child. No matter what decisions the parents make, it is the child who goes to school every day. Know your child: his likes and dislikes, his personality and learning style, his hobbies and abilities. The ideal school should be a place where your child feels safe and comfortable, enjoys learning and able to develop to his full potential.

Research online for necessary school information. A lot of expat families actually have made up their minds even before they arrive in China. Doing research online as Pedersen or Lewis did will get you a lot of useful information on the potential schools and save you a lot of time. For example, www.internationalschool.info offers up to 2,000 pieces of information, photos and videos on more than 130 international schools in China. Checking on the school official websites, you will easily find the general info of the school – from philosophy to curricula, admissions policy to school calendar and more. By doing the research, you can easily narrow down your list of potential schools for your children.

Seeing is believing; visit the school. There is no substitute for engaging in a school visit. Always try to visit during school hours if possible. Finding an opportunity to attend a school function can also provide valuable information about the attitudes of staff, parents and students. Are students happy, courteous, and disciplined? Are they actively involved in learning? Are teachers and staff helpful, approachable, and friendly? Look at the bulletin boards. Displays that feature work samples allow parents to see beyond test scores to what the children are learning and how they are learning it.

Academic performance and whole-child education are very important. Standardized test scores and college acceptance of high school graduates is easily available information and demonstrates a record of achievement. However, most important is that the school is focused on the children, and its commitment and efforts are about providing quality education and learning opportunities for them.

Does the school’s curricular focus match the educational goals for the child? Is the teaching approach child-centered and challenging enough to develop your child’s strengths and love of learning? 

Holistic education is very important. How does the school support learning outside of the classroom? What after-school programs, sports, academic enrichment and social service opportunities are on offer?

School-community is almost one word; get involved. School is part of the community. Are the parents and community involved in the school? Research shows children who see their parents involved in this way have a greater likelihood of school success. Once a school has been chosen, it is important that parents maintain a real commitment to that school, including supporting the staff and contributing time and talents as much as they are able.

There are many quality schools in Shanghai, and bear in mind that there is no such thing as a “perfect school.” However, you will soon find one school will be a perfect fit for your kids and the family. 

By XING Yangjian

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