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Extraordinary Students

March, 2009
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 A recently online news report says Harvard professors and classmates of Obama all believe that Barack Obama was an ‘extraordinary student’.

"Obama was “extraordinary,” says Professor David Wilkins, but what really makes him so appealing is that “what you see is what you get.”

"The way someone plays a sport tells you a lot about what kind of person they are,” said classmate Hill Harper, a Harvard Law School grad who turned to acting and now stars in “CSI: NY.”

"He was the smartest and most humble person I have ever been around,” said Earl Phalen, 41, who met Obama through Harvard University’s Black Law Students’ Association.

Obviously, Obama left an ‘extraordinary’ impression on his Harvard professors and classmates. So, what exactly makes him an extraordinary student? In fact, what makes any student extraordinary?? A small survey conducted on a class in Shanghai Rego International School gave us some interesting results:

Q: What kind of student is an “Extraordinary Student”?

-Academically strong, with straight “A” in every subject. (1+1+1

-Very talented, extremely clever. (1+1+1+1+1+1

-Good Character and strong leadership skills. (1+1+1+1+1

-A star on the sports field or on the stage. (1+1+1

- An inspiring person, doing great community service. (1+1+1+1

Q: What makes an Extraordinary Student?

-Character (1+1+

-Determination and effort (1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1

-Cultural background (

-Parents and teachers (

Q: Have you found such an Extraordinary Student around you?

Four students say “YES”. Here are the stories of a few students who have been doing some extraordinary things.


Beatrice Halbach, Concordia International School Shanghai

"I don’t know… It definitely could be interpreted in many ways. I think it is not about grades, about how many activities you do or how hard your classes are. It’s about your passion for it, I guess. For me, just school in general is always something I enjoy. I always love learning, reading, understanding new concepts I did not know before, interacting with people. And I think to be a student out of the ordinary, you have to have that passion for learning, because that’s the only way you improve."

Beatrice was born in Germany, and lived in France when she was younger. At the age of 8, she moved to the United States for the first time and lived in Michigan for almost 8 years.
Beatrice said that was a happy period in her life: her school was very good and she met great teachers too.

"At that time I also started learning how to play guitar. It is one of my favorite things to do,” she said. Another interest she developed during that time was reading. “When I started to learn English, I started to love reading. I read in French and German too, but especially in English.” As a result of this, she is able to communicate very well in all the three languages. Now she is also taking courses outside school to learn Chinese.

Before coming to Concordia International School Shanghai, Beatrice moved back to Munich, Germany for one year. The school she attended was very different from any other schools she has ever been to. It was very difficult because she had history and geography in French, arts and music classes in German, and maths and science in English. Beatrice said she learnt a lot from this challenging school life. Although the Munich school put more emphasis on scores as opposed to extracurricular activities, service work or sports and music, she was still able to get involved in some extra activities and helped to organize the prom with her friends.

"The school did not have a prom before, so we just organized one,” says Beatrice. “It was really fun.”

It seems she always likes to introduce new  things to any school she attends. She created the environmental committee at Concordia at the beginning of last year, her first year at the school.

"When I first came to Concordia, one of the first things I noticed was the pollution in Shanghai, especially the smog all the time,” said Beatrice. “I know that pollution was a problem, but I realized that there wasn’t a recycling program like in schools in the US, where there are recycling bins and recycling is very ordered.” So she started the environmental committee to raise awareness about methods to recycle, trying to reduce waste especially with paper. “Because we have printers in every classroom, and people used to print just on one side, to the paper would go to waste. One of the things we did was encourage them to print on both sides, so that basically we could halve the amount of paper we used.”

Now the committee runs under the student council with 24 student members from all grades. With help from a school teacher, Interface Global sponsored the group and gave them a big grant to buy recycling bins and help the school become more energy efficient.

Beatrice is definitely passionate about a lot of other things in school. She is an executive board member on the student council, a Varsity athlete and Head of the Global Issues Network (GIN) that will present in Bangkok this March. The topic her team is focusing on at the GIN is water shortages, and they have already started to prepare ideas and videos for the presentation.

As an 8th grader, she has a heavy course load as well as extracurricular activities after school… “I enjoy doing all the things, like being on student council and the environment committee. I think I am passionate about it, so it’s not a burden, it is more a fun thing.”

Words for the other students: I think a lot of students complain about their schools, and they say “we could have improved it by dong this…” But it’s never going to happen if you just say it. I think the key is to start something. Your teachers, your administrators, they are always willing to help you, and try to improve it. You have to have the willingness to take the initiative, and to do something about it, whatever you think the issue is.


Andrew Wallis, Shanghai American School

"An extraordinary student probably would be somebody who is well-rounded. If they are good in school, they are determined, they have goals, they can do other things like sports, and not always sports, but other extra-curricular activities, like they do drama, or math, or something like that, out of school. If they can do these things, and stick with it, be determined, and have goals, be a leader, be a better team player, then I think that’s an extraordinary student who can do all that.”

Andrew Wallis just moved to Shanghai American School before the Chinese New Year. His only impression of the school was from an APAC baseball game last year between Hong Kong International School and Shanghai American School.
But many people here already have an impression of him…

  “The baseball star,” many say. “It was a little strange when I came on my first day at school, there were a lot of people coming to me, ‘oh, you are Andrew, right? You play baseball.’ They knew me, but I did not know them,” Andrew said. “It felt good, but it was a little bit weird, having all these people know me before I actually met them. But it actually helped me a bit and I found more friends easily, so I didn’t feel like a totally new student.”

  Andrew is truly a star on the pitch. He represented Hong Kong on the Little League All-Star team (2005-2007). In 2006, on the Hong Kong International School Dragons, Andrew won both the China Cup at Shanghai American School (SAS) and the APAC in International School of Beijing (ISB). In 2007, his team won an invitational tournament at Brent International School Manila, the China Cup in Shanghai and an invitational tournament at Singapore American School in Singapore. In 2008, HKIS dragons took second place in the China Cup held at ISB and first place in the APAC at SAS. During inter-school competitions, Andrew received the Player of the Game award at APAC in 2006. At this year’s APAC tournament, he was selected by the coaches for the All-APAC Team.

  “I play pitcher and short stop, but I used to play catcher and other positions as well,” said Andrew. “I have been playing baseball probably my whole life ever since I started walking, because my grandpa and my older brother play baseball as well. “When I was younger, I was always playing in the next age division. So if I was nine or ten, I would be playing with 11 or 12 year olds. Two years ago when my brother was a senior, and I was in eighth grade, we were playing in the same school baseball team.”

  Baseball has a short season but a lot of games. Last October, Andrew and his team were only in Hong Kong for one weekend while on other weekends they were travelling to the Philippines, Beijing and Shanghai for games.

  “We have to miss school. We have to stick with it, and try to catch up when we have free time,” Andrew said. “I think it’s good to do more sports at school because in sports you can learn how to be a team player, or more of a leader. Those characteristics or aspects of the games you can also use in class or group work. Also, if you are determined to do well in your sports, you have the same mentality when it comes to school. You are determined to get your work done to do the best you can.”

  Andrew’s hard work is certainly paying off. On the academic side, he just recently received High Honors/ Headmaster’s Commendation at HKIS for the first semester of this year and the 9th grade. Along with keeping up with academics and sports, Andrew has also participated in service trips to the Philippines and Vietnam through Habitat for Humanity and the Church of All Nations in Hong Kong.

  “I am just taking it one step at a time,” said the boy. “During the summers I will go to some camps and try to get better and meet some college coaches. I will do college baseball, that’s my dream. But now that the weather is getting better, we might get some training outside.”

  Words for other students: If you are in sports, and you like it, stick with it, even if you are not all that great at it, you can still take stuff from it. Try to do your best. Also, doing sports keeps you fit which is definitely a good thing.


Sally Chia, Shanghai American School

“I think you can define extraordinary students in two ways. One is you get four point O’s, you have A’s, you have 2400, and you are a great daughter or son. And the other one I think is, you might not be so good at all those things, you might not be the normal straight A student, but you work harder at your other strengths, and you prove to everybody around you that, you know, I don’t need that, I can do something else. Just because of a grade on the system does not mean I have to go with that. I can do better.”

  Sally Chia started at Shanghai American School in her 10th grade. “I was shy at that time, and I did not know anybody here,” Sally recalls as to why she started the on campus internship.
“At the beginning, I got in contact with hotels, finding caterers, telling DJs when to set up… and such things. When I got into it, I thought I just wanted to do this as a hobby, nothing more.”

  But in 11th grade, Sally was put in charge. “That’s when everything started getting hectic, especially when your budget is like 200 RMB per person for a school event in a hotel where the hotel where the managers want to charge you 580 RMB per person,” Sally said. “You will meet contacts who are very friendly, and you will meet ones that are not friendly. You have to deal with them and you have to know how to approach them in different ways.”

  Currently Sally is selling ads for Parent Talk, the weekly school publication. She has about five hours every other day and she comes to the Communications office in SAS Puxi campus to start work. For the rest of the time, she needs to do school work. “It’s a little bit hard to balance those things as I actually have five external events this year. And I have AP music, IB English level, IB Chinese level, IB math. It’s a little bit tough, but I think what I am learning out of this will go further than anything else.”

  Sally feels that working and studying actually benefit each other. What she learns in the classrooms and from her teacher often reflects in her work. For example, writing and checking emails has improved her grammar and writing skills. “I think school teaches you the discipline, and work teaches you how to use the discipline,” she said. “One thing I did not notice about the difference between work and school was that we are assigned projects at school and we finish the project and get grades on it. That ends. But in work, when you are given assignments, they last a long time. And the relationships that you keep with these customers will go a long way.”

  About two weeks ago, Sally got accepted to  Indiana University in the United States where she is going to study marketing and sales and communications. “This is what I am doing here, I love my job.”

  Words for other students: What you get out of an internship, what you get in dealing with your own problems, dealing with your boss or dealing with everything that you have on your hands is a completely different story. What you learn through it is something that you can carry a long way with you. Even after college. Grades don’t go so far as this experience.


Emily Vogel, Audrey Goettl and Kimber Wong, Shanghai American School

“An extraordinary student should be someone who is well-rounded, who participates in sports and community services, focuses on what s/he is studying and keeps a good relationship with fellow students and teachers.”

Emily, Audrey and Kimber are schoolmates, close friends and also co-founders of a group called GIFTS, which stands for “Giving Individuals a Future to Succeed.” “Being in an international school gives us the opportunity to help people around us,” they say.
Emily and Kimber were there at last year’s Global Issues Network conference held at the Western Academy of Beijing. The Beijing conference was the first GIN conference, primarily designed for high school students. Emily and Kimber as well as their other two schoolmates were the only middle school students. Their presentation at the conference was titled “Helping solve the issues Surrounding Labor Migration through the Model of KIVA.” Kiva is the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs in the developing world. Kiva’s mission is to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.

  The presentation was well received by the audience. “It was a really cool conference,” said Emily. “We got to meet with students from many different countries and discuss our ideas on the global issues with them. At the conference, not only did we receive feedback on our own action plan, but we were inspired by how people, both our age and younger, had started to give back to the community.”

  When Emily and Audrey came back from the GIN conference last year, they started to help raise money for the organization Hoops of Hope, which fights against AIDS in Africa. Also, as part of their work in the Global Issues unit in Humanities, the girls last year set up their own group called “GIFTS”: - Giving Individuals a Future to Succeed. This year, the three girls are working on the issue of literacy. In a month’s time they will hold a read & sing event with elementary school students at SAS. The money donations from this will be given to a local migrant school in Shanghai for buying books.

  “What we all realized is that being literate is really the most important thing to achieve before you can be successful in life,” said Audrey. “It is very depressing to see many people who cannot read a book or don’t know what it means.” “We just want our elementary school kids to recognize how valuable being literate is, and that they should reach out to help children of their own age who cannot read or write,” added Kimber. Their goal is to promote this literacy campaign in other schools as well, then later on share the ideas with other students at the next GIN conference.

  “This year we really want our organization to go well at SAS so that more students will join our group,” said Emily.

  Words for the other students: Just get involved, try to do more things and work with new people. Share ideas with everyone. If you try to change your habits now, and continue, you can make a huge difference in the future.  

  Here is the last survey question: Are you going to do something extraordinary during your school years?

-YES (1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+

  But everyone has their own plans on how to be extraordinary, which is what makes our youth so special.

By Xing Yangjian

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