SINGAPORE - Year one junior college (JC) students across Singapore started school on Monday (Feb 5), and dived straight into orientation activities. But for several JCs, these activities were not quite the same this year.
Over at Innova JC (IJC) and Yishun JC (YJC), the year two presidents of the schools' student leaders bodies - Ang Ying Xuan and So Ee Cheng respectively - helped to run a joint orientation programme for their JCs.
The reason? The two JCs are merging next year due to a falling number of students enrolled, a result of Singapore's declining birth rate. The merged JC, called Yishun Innova JC, will be sited in 2019 at YJC's current location.
To facilitate the transition to a merged school, the school that is moving out of its premises - IJC - to the other school - YJC - will not have have a year one intake this year.
So, the JC2 students from both JCs came together to organise a combined orientation programme for YJC's year one students.
The combined orientation is intended to give the year two students of IJC the chance to plan and facilitate activities for a junior batch. They would otherwise not have such an experience to work with and lead year one students.
Said Ying Xuan about planning for the joint orientation: "We had some disagreements as both sides wanted things to be done in a certain way. Everyone wanted to have their school's identity represented, especially in a merged JC.
"In the end we learnt to compromise and talk things out."
IJC and YJC are among the four pairs of JCs that will be merged. The other JC pairs are Anderson JC and Serangoon JC, Pioneer JC and Jurong JC, and Meridian JC and Tampines JC. These JCs also carried out joint orientation activities due to similar reasons as IJC and YJC.
There was much discussion on what the merged schools would be called.
In January, the names of the merged schools were announced. At the time, the Ministry of Education said JC principals discussed this in the past year with alumni associations, students, past and present staff and school advisory committees.
A total of 180 JC2 students from IJC and YJC are involved in this year's joint orientation programme.
They first touched base in August last year, meeting up twice to get to know one another better and get used to working together.
The orientation activities at YJC will last for a week and a half until next Wednesday (Feb 14). The students began planning for the programme in November.
At the end of November, 57 of the student leaders went to Hong Kong for a study trip, which also offered opportunities for the students to bond. They had gone there to learn about Hong Kong's housing and political system.
Said Ee Cheng: "The theme (of the joint orientation) was decided during the seven-day Hong Kong trip, in which the student leaders came together and voted. We eventually settled on 'Evolution'."
Ms Magdalene Tan, IJC's head of department for character and citizenship education, said that during the trip, each student was roomed with a peer from the other school to break the ice.
"Initially some of them preferred to room with someone they were familiar with. But we convinced them to be open-minded, and by the end of the trip some of them said they were actually thankful for the arrangement," said Ms Tan.
The traditional orientation houses of both schools, which students are sorted into, have also been merged based on their colours. For example, the red house in YJC is Admiralty and in IJC it is Taurus. They were merged to form Admiralty-Taurus.
"We had to decide if we wanted to create totally new names, or to combine the existing ones. We chose to combine them, so as to retain the culture of both schools," said Ee Cheng.
She said that coming up with completely new names would have involved " a lot more creativity and compromise", adding that it might have also resulted in people criticising the names and saying that other alternatives would have been better.
The logo for the orientation is also made up of totems, that come together to form "Y" and "I" to represent the initials of both schools.
Said YJC art teacher Mr Abdul Hadi Abdul Wahab, 28: "All these small things matter. From the new house names to the creation of new house cheers together - they make a difference in helping the students bond."
The joint orientation programme includes learning a mass dance, a treasure hunt styled after the Amazing Race, and a day-long adventure camp with activities like kayaking.
"The Amazing Race will be longer this year, as it will cover an expanded area stretching between IJC and YJC," explained Mr Karthikesan Kuma, 31, the subject head of physical education and co-curricular activities at YJC. He is known as Mr Karthik among students.
Previously, the schools would hold such treasure hunts in the surrounding areas of their premises.
There will also be a session for the students to learn coding, as part of a digital literacy programme, a niche programme under IJC which will be carried on in the new merged school, said Mr Karthik.