President's Award for Teachers: Lauded for going beyond textbooks

Mrs Chong (left) was honoured for having started Spectra Secondary's Garden- Based Service Learning programme (above).
Mrs Chong (above) was honoured for having started Spectra Secondary's Garden- Based Service Learning programme.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Mrs Chong (left) was honoured for having started Spectra Secondary's Garden- Based Service Learning programme (above).
Mrs Chong was honoured for having started Spectra Secondary's Garden- Based Service Learning programme (above).ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

One teacher started a gardening programme, another got students to build useful gadgets

It may be easy to preach the importance of abstract values like responsibility, yet putting them into practice could be an entirely different ball game.

But at Spectra Secondary School, students faithfully visit a rooftop garden at their school come rain or shine, growing vegetables like lettuce and kangkong and tending to them till they flourish and are ready to be harvested.

They are then sold to the public at a farmer's market, with proceeds going towards students on financial assistance. It is through such hands-on work that they learn what it means to respect nature, be responsible in carrying out their duties and giving back to society.

This Garden-Based Service Learning programme for Secondary 1 students, part of the school's Character and Citizenship Education curriculum, was started last year by school staff developer Lyvenne Chong, who came up with the idea after reading about similar initiatives in the US and Australia.

For her innovative teaching methods and commitment to her students, she received the President's Award for Teachers from President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Istana yesterday.

"After getting their hands dirty, toiling in the sun, they can taste the success of growing their own vegetables, " said the 58-year-old educator.

SENSE OF ACHIEVEMENT

When they see the vegetables growing and flourishing, the students feel a strong sense of connection to the garden and the school. They also told me they realised how important maths is when they had to calculate how much to charge customers for vegetables sold.

MRS LYVENNE CHONG, of Spectra Secondary, on the garden-based learning programme.

The farmer's market at Spectra Secondary, which is held about three times a year, has raised $3,500 so far this year. "When they see the vegetables growing and flourishing, the students feel a strong sense of connection to the garden and the school. They also told me they realised how important maths is when they had to calculate how much to charge customers for vegetables sold," she said.

Five other teachers who also received the award were Madam Juliana Johari (Qihua Primary), Ms O Guat Bee (Temasek Primary), Mr Anil Vasudevan (Marsiling Secondary), Madam Michele Tang from Catholic High School (Secondary) and Mr Tharmendra Jeyaraman from Siglap Secondary.

The winners were selected by a panel chaired by Ms Denise Phua, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, out of a pool of 2,557 nominated by school leaders, teachers, parents, and former and current students this year.

More than 70 teachers have received the award since its introduction in 1998.

Mr Anil, 41, who heads the craft and technology department at Marsiling Secondary, uses a design- thinking approach to get his students to come up with practical solutions for people who need help.

One of his students, for example, built a bottle opener for people with limited arm strength by including a foot-operated clamp into its design.

"Design is not just about aesthetics... It's about having empathy and being able to put yourself in the shoes of someone else," he said.

Mrs Chong knows what it means to persevere even in the face of failure and disappointment. The former entrepreneur had applied to become a teacher in her native Malaysia and Singapore several times, succeeding only on her seventh try at the age of 37.

"It was my childhood ambition to be a teacher. I tell the students that if you want to be successful, you have to work hard - just like how you did in the garden."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2016, with the headline 'Lauded for going beyond textbooks'. Print Edition | Subscribe