Lantau’s Discovery College teaches students to think for themselves while helping others, writes Vickie Chan. Discovery College is one of three international schools on Lantau, and is located in Discovery Bay, a bus ride from the ferry pier. It offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, and students as young as four can enter at primary level and continue until they are ready for tertiary education at 18. The only entry requirement is proficiency in English, although Putonghua is compulsory throughout the primary years, and secondary students can choose between Putonghua and Spanish. The school’s principal, Mark Beach, is proud of its achievements and talks passionately about the IB philosophy, which includes critical thinking, problem-solving and exposure to a variety of viewpoints. The purpose-built award-winning campus, which opened in 2008, is the architectural reflection of that philosophy. The U-shaped building, with a central covered courtyard used for break time, offers a sense of community, while junior students are at an advantage in sharing facilities usually found only in secondary schools. The staff have worked hard to create a sense of oneness and the culture is palpable. “We have one staff, community and school. Our house system mixes all ages and our buddy system sees older students guiding younger students transitioning to secondary school,” Beach explains. Shared units require senior students to team up with students in the primary section to work together, for instance in reading or working on an art piece. The aim is for students to become skilled and knowledgeable, able to make a difference in the world. Service is an important theme and the friendliness throughout the school is obvious. At morning break, children run around in groups or sit and chat, all smiling happily. Beach approaches things from a community and relationship-based standpoint. “It’s about hard work, not just results,” he says, adding that the school has an approach of valuing all students. A dedicated learning team, plus six full-time learning assistants for each grade, identify whether children are excelling or having difficulties. “Support is inclusive, so assistants are in the classroom, and while those who are struggling might have some different activities, we keep them together,” he explains. Two trained psychologist counsellors are available for added support and older students can self-refer. Staff contact is high – primary ages are with their teachers all day and secondary students see their learning adviser daily. Each year breaks down into four classes, six learning teams and has its own dean. Meanwhile, teachers carry a card to take notes for the process of dealing with any arguments or issues. “Our restorative relationship behaviour policy recognises when harm has been done, gets the victim and wrongdoer together to acknowledge the impact of harm, and work together to find a solution – this system can make huge differences to bad behaviour,” Beach says. Understanding relationship breakdowns gives students the tools to mediate, problem-solve and consider all the consequences. A holistic approach sees the IB place an importance on the arts. “This helps kids in multiple curriculum areas and builds confidence,” says Beach, referring to a subject that is often overlooked in Hong Kong. Facilities which incorporate the latest technology are hidden within the neat complex. Apart from a heated indoor pool, the top floors house several top-quality workshops, from woodwork to 3D printing, art and design and a home economics kitchen. On lower levels, a theatre with professional lighting, two drama rehearsal rooms and a dance studio are complemented by a music workshop lined with instruments, and a recording studio. There is also a Mac Centre for laptop support and a wellness centre offering classes such as yoga for diploma-year students. “Our parents want their kids to enjoy learning at school. They want a safe environment that gives their children the tools to be successful beyond school – to be social, educated, fit and healthy, emotionally firm and internationally minded. They want them to have a sense of the privilege that comes with responsibility,” Beach says. While most parents have high expectations of tertiary education, options such as the No Boundaries programme give students the chance to carry out interesting community work such as building schools in Cambodia, offering them a perspective on the world. With a complete philosophy, the best in facilities and a great environment managed by teachers, assistants and support staff, it’s hard to see how a student would not be happy and successful at Discovery College – and to top it all, there’s the advantage of the clean air that blows effortlessly throughout the campus from the waterfront beyond.