Hong Kong schools coming up with ways to give back to their communities

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 June, 2015, 6:08am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 June, 2015, 6:08am

Although businesses have known for many years how important engaging with their communities is, it's a fairly new concept for schools. Savvy school staffers are now looking beyond the schoolyard to find enhanced learning opportunities for students - and even generating a bit of revenue while "finding their niche".

Discovery Bay International School has just launched DBIS Night School, offering classes such as adult and children's art workshops, an adult drama workshop, a teen yoga course and a filmmaking workshop.

A personal development series includes sessions with titles such as "Dismantling your inner critic" and "Ideals, dreams and your future". Courses are run by independent providers as well as school staff, with plans to expand the night school offerings in the new school year.

"The Night School was set up to enable DBIS to work in partnership with the community by offering evening classes for all," DBIS communications and events coordinator Alison Wyatt says. "The rationale behind it was for DBIS to be able to offer a service, not only for parents but also for other members of the community.

The response was so positive, we realised we needed to give students more of a platform
Iain Williamson, South Island School

"Our classes are mainly aimed at adults; however, we do offer some student classes such as teen yoga and art."

Wyatt says the aim is not to generate profit, but to cover costs and increase opportunities.

"Our aim is to grow bigger in our second term after summer and to offer a wider variety of classes."

French International School was recently granted a new site in Tseung Kwan O in which to develop a new campus. The site, scheduled to open in 2018, will be designed to cater to the interests of the community besides the 950 students who will eventually join the school.

"We believe the opening of this new campus will help us build a culturally diverse community and establish strong links with local groups," says headmaster Christian Soulard. Initiatives include welcoming local groups to utilise school facilities, which include a pool and gymnasium, auditorium, outdoor playground and running track.

South Island School is also at the forefront of challenging academic endeavours, which put senior students taking media courses to work in the community.

"The students' production work is so polished that in recent years the school established a commissioned service whereby senior students create short promotional films and documentaries for a fee," says Iain Williamson, head of film/TV/media studies and media literacy coordinator.

The seed of this venture began to grow when renowned ethologist Jane Goodall showed a video created by South Island School students at an environmental conference in Europe.

"The response was so positive, we realised we needed to give students more of a platform," says Williamson.

Corporate clients include the Belgian consulate and the World Debating Championships. The money gained from the commissioned films pays for new equipment, decided by the students. A recent large purchase was a DSLR full-frame camera.

But the students are not just involved in the production process. "There's 'meet and greet' with clients, and there are quality assurance and public relations issues to consider," says Williamson.

"We have our own business account, and external insurance for students. It's all part of a robust business model … stepping stones to an entrepreneurial initiative rather than an extracurricular activity."

In fact, unlike most extracurricular activities, students do not have to pay to join. "It's part of the learning," Williamson says. "If we run exams, they will be real exams, where students have to produce something to a brief against professional standards, and under deadline."

Williamson says the long-term aim is for South Island School to be a hub to teach students to take the lead in all aspects of the business, including training. The profit these students earn for their school is a bonus. The confidence they gain, and the respect of their industry peers, is the dividend.