By Maxmilian Wechsler
The primary school, catering for over 650 pupils aged 3-11 years old, covers 15-rai between New Petchburi and Rama 9 roads. The area of the school is a quiet and picturesque oasis in the city. The school’s environment is very calm. The landscaping throughout the campus has been designed to be very green. On the way in, after passing the lovely fountain, you will see the trees and grass. “We are in a great location,” Ms Dennison shared proudly, and after being shown round, I couldn’t agree more.
The British Ambassador H.E. Brian Davidson was on hand together with other VIPs when the campus was officially opened on 22 August 2018.
The school, designed by American architect Bob Holmes, consists of low-rise buildings with connected spaces and large windows, letting in plenty of natural light to aid learning and creativity.
Ms Dennison showed me around the campus accompanied by another happy member of the team, Ms Ruth Boxer, Marketing Manager.
“I fell in love with Thailand when I was travelling many years ago,” Ms Dennison began the interview. “I always hoped that one day I would return. Back in England, I built my career at home and after working in inner city primary schools – quite tough and challenging schools for that time – I remembered my dream and applied for a Vice Principal, Head of Junior School role, internationally at Shrewsbury. The position was offered to me, I took it with both hands, and now here I am starting my tenth year in Bangkok.
“In 2003 I was appointed as head teacher at the The Millennium School, Greenwich where I worked for until 2010 before deciding to pursue an international career here in Thailand.
“Following seven very successful and enjoyable years as the Head of the Junior School at Shrewsbury Bangkok’s Riverside Campus, where I lived and breathed the school’s values, I am now very proud to be the founding Principal of Shrewsbury International School Bangkok City Campus which opened in August 2018.
“It has been a very exciting time for the Shrewsbury family of schools and for me personally. We begin our second year with a student population which has doubled in size since the school opened.”
Duties and responsibilities
“City Campus is a fantastic facility. Of course, a construction project of this kind presented several challenges along the way. A school is more than just the physical fabric though. Building a new community and ensuring a strong, caring and respectful ethos has been the centre of my priorities and underpins all our decision-making.
“We are lucky to have had a wonderful group of founding families who are extremely supportive and involved in school life, coupled with an outstanding staff team. Optimism is always a characteristic that I have drawn on as a leader and something which help me personally, as well as the communities that I lead, to keep moving forward.
“It is important to lead by example, to have a clear vision for the school and what it wants to achieve, and to clearly communicate these high expectations and goals to ensure that everyone in the community is working together to achieve them.
“Another important aspect of this role is to be able to select exceptional people, and to build and develop their strengths so that they may become the leaders of the future.”
About City Campus
“Among other facilities, we have our two swimming pools, our Gymnastics Centre of Excellence, a natural turf pitch, a food technology space – it is very important to us that our children learn to cook and understand food – we have a science laboratory, our wellbeing room and our music and creative arts floor. We also love our library.
“Our suite of music teaching spaces allows our children develop their composing, performing and listening skills. Our specialist music teachers are highly skilled and accomplished musicians in their own right. They have the ability to ensure a passion and an appreciation of music.
Our Performing Arts provision extends to a ‘black box’ drama space, a Dance Studio and a Recital Hall. Our children make full use of these high quality teaching spaces ensuring our children are motivated, confident and proud to perform on stage in our 550-seater auditorium.
“Our D&T provision extends to a fully equipped modern Food and Technology space and to our Digipod lab where coding and robotics is integrated into the curriculum.
“Our Specialist D&T Innovation leader, Ms Katie Holland, is highly qualified and motivated. She has excellent links with industry and we will be the first school in Thailand to embark upon the DEC (Design, Engineer, Construct) programme. This programme will be instrumental in educating the future of construction and changing the lives of our young people.
“The children at City Campus learn Thai, Mandarin and English – our expectations is that by the end of Key Stage 2 all children will be able to read, write, speak and listen proficiently in all three languages. Research shows that if you want to achieve proficiency similar to that of a native speaker you should start learning before the age of 10.
“The feedback we have since this school was opened a year ago is that we are friendly, happy campus. If the children are happy they are going to learn. Some parents tell us they have tears from their children on Saturdays and Sundays because they can’t come to school!” Ms Dennison relays.
Teachers and students
“When recruiting my staff, I read every teacher’s application personally, and select a shortlist. I interview candidates either with my Vice-Principal, Ms Fiona Betts, or with Mr Ben Keeling, the Principal of Shrewsbury International School Hong Kong.
“Our student population reflects a mixture of native and international families. The campus’s location is very near to many places where international communities are based in Bangkok. The parents of the children are people with business, diplomats from embassies and working for big companies.
“When it comes to entry assessment, we do have certain expectations. Our criteria are the same as that of the Pre-Prep and Prep School at Riverside. As well as interacting and observing the children, it is important for us to talk with their parents as well. We want to be clear that they know what we are offering. We have to match their expectations and they also need to match ours,” Ms Dennison pointed out.
“Each child that is offered a place at City Campus is selected because of the potential we see in them. Our teachers are very skilled in differentiating and setting a challenging, creative, topic-led British curriculum with our pupils.
“Our children may well end up with my northern British accent by the time they graduate,” Ms Dennison laughs, with her own Morecambe lilt and a typically wide smile on her face.
“The children come here every day. We are not a boarding school, it is a day school. We offer a school bus service, otherwise the parents will bring them in. We prefer the latter, so that we can see our mums and dads daily, have that face-to-face contact, and continue to build our strong community feel.
“Once our pupils graduate from City Campus in Year 6 (11 years old), they take up their guaranteed place at our Riverside campus. The secondary school at Riverside is currently reconfiguring its space and undergoing extensive building work, ready to accommodate the Year 7 joiners from City Campus.”
What else Ms Dennison said:
• “There’s no school officially during weekends but often on Saturdays there are extra-curricular and community events for our families to enjoy. We have swimming competitions and inter-school football matches, amongst other things.
• “We don’t allow children to bring mobile phones to school. We also encourage parents to model minimal screen-time habits!
• “We are not planning to open new campuses in Thailand but in China, by 2022, we will open two Shrewsbury schools in Guangzhou and Shanghai.
• “Bob Holmes is an amazing architect who also designed the Riverside Campus. Thanks to him, at City Campus
we have a lot of natural light, with collaborative spaces and interior design that is purposely designed for primary-aged children. He also designed the schools we are opening in China.”
Future plans for Amanda
Shrewsbury City Campus is now accepting applications for September 2020. Places are limited. Shrewsbury City Campus is now accepting applications for September 2020.
Places are limited. Interested families are advised to book a school visit at https://bit.ly/2PhB44L