SINGAPORE - When the first intake of 200 students turns up in Crest Secondary School next year, they will be assured by the principal, no less, that it is okay to make mistakes.
Mr Frederick Yeo, the principal of the new specialised Normal (Technical) school, wants to foster an environment to get them to stretch and "feel proud of themselves".
He knows that the school in Jurong East is likely to get many students with "a low opinion of their own abilities".
To combat this from the get-go, it will have one counsellor or social worker per level, compared to the usual allocation of one for the whole school.
Crest is also looking to partner a voluntary welfare organisation to run a mentoring programme for at-risk students.
Students will undergo personalised profiling yearly so that their family circumstances can be tracked individually throughout their time in school.
But the main thing the affable 40-year-old principal wants to do is create a "culture of care" in the new school, which will open by the year end.
The first step towards this is to assure students that they are in a safe place, he added.
"We have to create a comfortable environment where students know that no one is going to laugh at them if they make mistakes," said the father of three and a Public Service Commission scholar.
The former principal of Bowen Secondary School is no stranger to shy 13-year-olds with self-esteem problems.
His recounting of his time at Bowen is filled with anecdotes of timid students, many in the Normal stream, who went on to blossom in an environment that encouraged them to try new things and where every achievement was celebrated in front of the entire student body.
The 200 students admitted to Crest next January will pursue a four-year programme leading to the N-level examinations. They will also have the chance to gain an Institute of Technical Education skills certificate in facility services, mechanical servicing, retail services or hospitality services.
Mr Yeo responds head-on to concerns that a specialised school for Normal (Technical) students would further compound feelings of insecurity in the students.
"Even in Bowen, there was a concern that Normal (Technical) kids may feel less able - we don't deny it," he said. "So we made sure that the Normal stream kids were able to get involved in the school as much as possible. The opportunities for them have to be ample."
To create these opportunities at Crest, Mr Yeo has sought out partnerships with co-curricular activity groups in schools such as Commonwealth Secondary, Raffles Institution and Shuqun Secondary, with the idea that their experience can guide Crest's fledgling groups.
He plans to engage parents early so that they have time to look into the school's programmes and decide if their children would benefit from them.
If there are more applications than places, students will be selected based on their suitability for hands-on and vocational learning. This will be assessed by means of a testimonial from a teacher, which must accompany every application to the school.
Eventually, Mr Yeo hopes that the culture of care will translate into one of identity and pride in the school. He hopes also for a shift in society's perception of Crest.
"I want to tell people: Don't emphasise that it's a Normal (Technical) school but that it offers a meaningful and customisable education," he said. "We are advocating a promising future for every student."
The school is one of two announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his 2010 National Day Rally address. The second, in Woodlands, will begin in 2014.