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Community spirit still strong at school

Yio Chu Kang Secondary's principal Janice Heng (centre) with maths teacher Annie Matthews (left), who joined the school in 1984, and contract teacher Mak Pak Lum, who joined in 1975.
Yio Chu Kang Secondary's principal Janice Heng (centre) with maths teacher Annie Matthews (left), who joined the school in 1984, and contract teacher Mak Pak Lum, who joined in 1975.PHOTO: MATTHIAS HO FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

When Yio Chu Kang Secondary was set up in 1965, it was the only school that stood among the kampungs in the area.

Mr Albert Lai, 53, attended from 1975 to 1978 and recalls plucking rambutans, swamp fishing and watching crocodiles fight near the Seletar Reservoir.

"Yio Chu Kang Secondary was a village school then," said the banking consultant. "A lot of the students lived in the kampungs and we would play there too."

Back in the sixties, Yio Chu Kang residents - many of whom were kampung dwellers - had asked then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew for a secondary school to take in the children from the area.

The school offered both English and Chinese lessons, and Mr Lai, who attended the now defunct Sembawang Hill Estate Primary School in Thomson, was in one of two English classes. "A lot of my primary school friends went on to Yio Chu Kang Secondary as well. Because of this, we were a closely knit group," he said.

Even now, Mr Lai still meets his secondary school friends about once a month for social gatherings, where they reminisce about their childhood days.

Teacher Mak Pak Lum, who joined the school in 1975, remembers when she used to conduct lessons using an overhead projector.

DEEPER TIES

Through the years, the staff, students, and school leaders have forged strong relationships...

I hope to build on this strong foundation to develop our students more.

MADAM JANICE HENG, principal of Yio Chu Kang Secondary

"Information technology (IT) has come in and changed a lot of things," said Mrs Mak, 67, now a contract teacher with the school. The birth of IT also meant that students face different challenges now, such as issues related to computer games addiction.

Madam Annie Matthews, who joined the school in 1984 and still teaches mathematics there, added: "In the past, it was more chalk and talk."

"Now, the kids are more informed. You have to engage them in different ways and understand their background and their emotional needs," said the teacher, who is in her fifties.

But one thing that has remained unchanged is the school's strong community spirit. For instance, students and other people still drop off second-hand textbooks there which are then passed on to lower-income families in a partnership with FairPrice.

This community spirit is also one that the school's current principal, Madam Janice Heng, hopes to preserve.

"Through the years, the staff, students, and school leaders have forged strong relationships," said Madam Heng, who took over as head in January last year. "I hope to build on this strong foundation to develop our students more."

This year, she initiated a student development team led by four teachers to look into how the school can better connect with students.

"Every cohort has its unique needs. In Secondary 1, it is about helping students transit to secondary school life. As they get older, we have to help them think about their future," she said.

"I hope to form more contact points with the students."

Pearl Lee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2015, with the headline 'Community spirit still strong at school'. Print Edition | Subscribe