More than just book-smart

Academic aces also nurture their passions outside the classroom

Ashley Ho, who achieved a perfect score at last November's IB diploma exams, is a dancer from Sota. She started Parkinson's Grooves - where she and others conducted movement therapy sessions for Parkinson's patients - after being inspired by her fath
Ashley Ho, who achieved a perfect score at last November's IB diploma exams, is a dancer from Sota. She started Parkinson's Grooves - where she and others conducted movement therapy sessions for Parkinson's patients - after being inspired by her father's own battle with the disease. She is also preparing a poetry manuscript for Math Paper Press, and has an internship at dance repertory company Frontier Danceland. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH


Having watched her father's debilitating battle with Parkinson's disease for the past 11 years, Ashley Ho was inspired to start Parkinson's Grooves, a project under the School of the Arts (Sota).

With a team of 10, she conducted hour-long, bi-monthly movement therapy sessions at the Parkinson's Society in 2016, combining her love for dance with a desire to inspire self-confidence in Parkinson's patients. "Dance is a natural thing to get you moving. We decided to bring that to a larger community," she said.

Ashley, 18, is a ballet and contemporary dancer from Sota. At last November's International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma exams, she achieved the perfect 45 points.

Sota might be an unusual choice for the academically inclined Ashley, who also scored 259 in the PSLE. However, she gave up a spot at a top mainstream school to pursue an arts-focused education.

"Sota is like a pot. You just throw everyone in, and the only commonality is that you enjoy the arts in some form. I've met a lot of people whom I would never have gotten to meet (if I had gone to other schools)," she said.

Ashley first took to the arts school after a tour of its old Goodman Road campus when she was in Primary 3. "I saw how lively and vibrant the students there were... so it was somewhere I wanted to go," she said.

She is the only daughter of Mr Ivan Ho, 51, and Madam Amanda Ng, 47, and has a 16-year-old brother studying at Hwa Chong Institution.

Her father's condition has worsened over the past decade, said Ashley, which has made it difficult for him to go about his job.

But the family of four makes it a point to spend Sundays together. "We won't blame anyone for (his condition), because that's how it is. We're already very lucky to go out as a family."

Ashley is now preparing a poetry manuscript for publisher Math Paper Press, on top of having an internship at dance repertory company Frontier Danceland and a part-time job at a restaurant.

But despite her penchant for writing, she does not intend to study it in university. "Writing is something you can practise, gain more exposure to, but I can get these things from monthly mentorships or workshops. I don't think you need a three-year study or a degree to be able to write," she said.

She hopes to receive the National Arts Council Arts Scholarship so as to further her studies at the London Contemporary Dance School.

But Ashley wants to be more than just a dancer. She aspires to be an interdisciplinary artist, giving her the flexibility to switch between art forms like dancing and writing, and even teaching and choreography.

"I guess (it's not that I don't fit) in a box, but that a box doesn't fit me. If I were to be a full-time dancer, I would always want more."

Syaiful Iylia Jamalluddin held leadership positions in three CCAs at ACS (Independent) and still had a near-perfect score in his IB exams. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN


Having leadership positions in three co-curricular activities (CCAs) while pursuing an IB diploma might sound daunting to most, but Syaiful Iylia relished the challenge.

The 18-year-old was part of the Young Diplomats Society, a venture scouts unit and the student council during his time at Anglo-Chinese School (Independent). During the peak CCA season, his weekdays were book-ended by a 7.30am start and late nights in school.

Despite his hectic schedule, Syaiful scored 42 points at the recent IB exams. He hopes to be accepted into the University of Oxford's philosophy, politics and economics course after completing his national service.

It was his involvement in the Young Diplomats Society that kick-started his passion for politics.

"The society really gave me a global outlook on things. I got to learn more about international affairs and... diplomacy," he said.

But it was tough keeping up the juggling act for two years. A slip-up, when he missed an assignment deadline due to student council commitments, saw him fall out of favour with a subject teacher.

He was briefly taken off council duties as a result, which helped to sort out his priorities. "Because I was in an academic school, I still had to put work first," he said.

Barely into his second week of NS, Syaiful does not yet have a specific vocation in mind, but would accept an offer to the Officer Cadet School if it came his way.

The eldest of five boys, he believes his big brother role, on top of his multiple leadership positions, gives him an edge over his peers. "Be it with juniors or siblings, I'm responsible for not only myself but others too."

Correction note: In the previous version of the story, we said the manuscript was prepared for Sing Lit Station instead of Math Paper Press. We are sorry for the error. The story has also been edited for clarity.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2018, with the headline More than just book-smart. Subscribe