Affected JC alumni hopeful cultures will be integrated

Tampines JC students performing in school at the annual Project HOT concert. The project is a school fund-raiser organised entirely by students. Alumni of JCs affected by the upcoming school mergers have called for the signature programmes of each alma ma
Tampines JC students performing in school at the annual Project HOT concert. The project is a school fund-raiser organised entirely by students. Alumni of JCs affected by the upcoming school mergers have called for the signature programmes of each alma mater to be preserved, while voicing concerns about successfully integrating the respective schools’ histories and cultures in the new entities. PHOTO: PROJECT HOT 2015
Tampines JC’s annual student-run fund-raising concert, Project HOT, which stands for “Hope of Tampines JC”, may have to be renamed after its merger with Meridian JC.
Tampines JC’s annual student-run fund-raising concert, Project HOT, which stands for “Hope of Tampines JC”, may have to be renamed after its merger with Meridian JC.PHOTO: PROJECT HOT 2015
Serangoon JC students and teachers participating in its annual event, Will Run, which was introduced in 2008. A former student hopes the run will be retained after the school’s merger with Anderson JC.
Serangoon JC students and teachers participating in its annual event, Will Run, which was introduced in 2008. A former student hopes the run will be retained after the school’s merger with Anderson JC. PHOTO: SERANGOON JUNIOR COLLEGE
President’s Scholar Natasha Ann Lum, who received her award from President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Istana on Aug 23 last year, feels that the culture of her alma mater, Pioneer JC, will be preserved after the merger as the people will remain.
President’s Scholar Natasha Ann Lum, who received her award from President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Istana on Aug 23 last year, feels that the culture of her alma mater, Pioneer JC, will be preserved after the merger as the people will remain. ST FILE PHOTO

The recently announced merger of 28 schools will include - for the first time - eight junior colleges. Serangoon Junior College (SRJC) and Anderson JC are set to combine forces over the next two years, as will Tampines Junior College (TPJC) and Meridian JC, Innova and Yishun JCs, and Jurong and Pioneer JCs. And, even as the Education Ministry gave assurances that heritage will be preserved in the merged JCs, alumni were quick to stress the distinctive nature of each alma mater.

Ms Rachel Lim, 30, was still a student at Meridian Junior College when she co-founded the blogshop that became her Love, Bonito clothing brand. She said the camaraderie there was her biggest takeaway: "It's home for me because it's where I found my second family."

Ms Lim, who graduated from the JC in 2004, also cited the school's sporting prowess as a particular point of pride. "The track was always full, the soccer field was always full, the sports hall was always full," she recalled. "For me, it was about celebrating the victories and being there for the losses."

School pride also burns hot for full-time national serviceman and TPJC alumnus Putra Syafiq Roslan, 21.

PRESERVING MEMORIES

I don't think we'll ever be able to capture the spirit of Innova again. I'll put my hopes in the teachers who move to the new school, to remind people of what it was like.

INNOVA ALUMNA AISYAH AMIR, who graduated in 2015, onsaying goodbye.

He took three years to complete his A levels, instead of two - but made full use of his time, spending his last year in 2015 as an orientation group leader.

He also spearheaded Project HOT, an annual student-run fund-raising concert.

"It's something we look forward to every year," said Mr Putra, who has stayed in touch with successive cohorts and provided advice in their planning process as well.

"HOT actually stands for 'Hope of Tampines JC'," he said. "With the merger, it cannot be called Project HOT any more. I'm not sure how it will carry on when we move to Meridian. But I'm sure that many of my schoolmates will want this legacy to continue."

The thought of bestowing merged schools with new names has left Mr Putra with another worry - that it "may lead to a disconnect on both sides".

"To me, having a dedicated corner isn't what we want to see. We want a complete integration of both cultures into one school," he said.

Alumni hope to see their schools' histories reflected in the character of the new JCs that will be formed from the mergers.

For example, Jurong JC's alumni Facebook page launched the #keepJJCname hashtag last Saturday, calling on the Ministry of Education (MOE) to use the Jurong name in the school that will be formed from its merger with Pioneer JC.

Similarly, the Anderson JC Alumni Association, which met representatives of its old school and the advisory committee last Friday, said in a statement provided to the media that it is "working on a formal written appeal to MOE to preserve the college's heritage, specifically to keep the college name and motto" - Non mihi solum (Not for myself alone) - after the merger with Serangoon JC.

But other alumni are more cautious about what can be salvaged and what must be left behind.

Former SRJC student Eddy Chua is an old boy who has kept his finger on the pulse, even though he left the junior college after a year to try the polytechnic route.

The 20-year-old, who is waiting to begin his national service, said he visits every year to attend drama society performances and even helped to direct its 2014 production despite no longer being enrolled in the school.

He entered SRJC in 2013 as an overweight teenager wary of the school's signature Will Run, which started as a 10km mass run. "In secondary school, we had a name for SRJC - the 'siao running' school," Mr Chua said jokingly, using the Hokkien word for "crazy".

But putting in months of training alongside schoolmates and teachers turned him into a fitness enthusiast.

Another stand-out experience is the annual Thanksgiving concert, held before National Day, "where teachers dress up and perform, to encourage us for our finals and promos".

"Maybe we can move Will Run and Thanksgiving to the new JC," said Mr Chua hopefully. "It would be a nice gesture, if the Anderson teachers are willing."

One JC teacher with strong feelings about the mergers is Ms Wen Xiang Ting, 30, who laughingly refers to herself as a Pioneer pioneer.

The school was established in 2000, and she graduated in 2004 - only to return in 2010, on the other side of the teacher's desk.

She pointed to the Sirius Scholars Programme - set up in 2006 to offer additional learning opportunities to students identified as having high potential - as one success that time has brought Pioneer.

"We are branded a neighbourhood JC - not in the top five. So, in the past, as a student, I would think that I could not get a scholarship," said Ms Wen, who is on the organising committee for this year's alumni homecoming dinner.

"To see how we have grown, from a brand-new JC to where we are now, has been very gratifying."

Singapore Armed Forces servicewoman Natasha Ann Lum, 19, who took part in the Sirius Scholars scheme, became Pioneer's first President's Scholar last year.

The former student council president said she was always encouraged to reach out to teachers during tough times - even for something as trivial as dating woes. "You would think the management is quite detached from the students - but I'm quite close to my principal."

She added: "At the end of the day, merger or not, the culture will still remain because the people will remain."

Innova alumna Aisyah Amir, who graduated in 2015, thought her 17-point O-level score meant she had to go to polytechnic. "But when I went to Innova, it was so refreshing," she said, recalling how the school's open house changed her mind. "People were so accepting. They didn't care if your O-level score was really low."

After news of the mergers broke, the 20-year-old, now an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore, penned a blog tribute which concluded that "the best thing about Innova was that it welcomed the underdogs, the kids who didn't have alternatives".

Also unforgettable was students' repertoire of mass dances. "There's a dance that everyone knows - Fire Burning, by Sean Kingston - and at any school event, someone will ask to put the song on," she said.

"I don't think we'll ever be able to capture the spirit of Innova again. I'll put my hopes in the teachers who move to the new school, to remind people of what it was like."

Annabeth Leow

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2017, with the headline 'Affected JC alumni hopeful cultures will be integrated'. Print Edition | Subscribe