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Shanghai Has One Bad-ass School in its Backyard


One International School is Forging their Own Path And Putting Shanghai on the Map

By Paul Lawrence
2021-05-09 09:00:00

  • Not Just Another IB School

    Not Just Another IB School

    In SmartShanghai’s “Brand Stories” article series, we endeavor to put the shine on the industry innovators in Shanghai. We look to work with people who are raising the bar in their respective fields in this city, and in doing so, are contributing something valuable and singular to enrich the collective community of Shanghai as a whole. We try to bring attention to, and celebrate, the businesses and brands that are doing something inspiring — something unique.

    Something… *dare we say it*…. bad-ass. Look at that TIGER Mascot.

    In the spotlight today, we’re proud and excited to feature the Western International School of Shanghai. WISS is the city’s only full-continuum International Baccalaureate (IB) that offers all four IB programs. They combine an unparalleled unique-in-China IB program regiment, internationally proven and implemented best-practice inquiry-based learning, an amazing student-to-teacher ratio, and state-of-the-art campus facilities to forge, inspire, and cultivate the international citizens of tomorrow’s world.

    They’ve got an aeronautics program. Did your high school have an aeronautics program?

    I think we had, like… “gym”.


    Y’know. Stuff like that.

  • Welcome to WISS

    Welcome to WISS

    Educating young people from across the globe in a sunny, green, and progressive environment since 2006, the WISS mandate is to “challenge and empower students through an unparalleled IB education”.

    Which is… yeah, hey, we can get with that!

    The Western International School of Shanghai is located in Xujing Town in the Qingpu district on the Puxi side of the Huangpu River in Western Shanghai (hence the name). WISS has one of the largest international school campuses in the city with facilities for Early Years, Primary, and Secondary students spread out over 18 bright and green acres. The modern campus features open-plan, specialty classrooms equipped with ceiling air purification units, a well-resourced library with dedicated areas for Early Years, Primary, and Secondary. What else… Oh! State-of-the art science and technology labs equipped with 3D printers and laser cutters, theater spaces and music studios, grass and Astroturf football fields, basketball courts, a running track, a gymnasium equipped with a rock-climbing wall… and two swimming pools.

    Pssshaw. Gotta have two. (Not counting, the pool they custom built for their stage production of Metamorphosis pictured… above!).

    For this feature, we spoke to a few of the people behind the scenes at the school to get a better understanding of their teaching philosophies, to find out more about what makes their IB programs singular and inspiring, and to learn more about the truly unique works and good deeds their students are undertaking that reflects their overall mandate of forging their own path to making the world a better more compassionate place.

    Now, everyone expects to see what the campus looks like, but we liked that drama piece above. But it’s a nice campus, check out their 360* Tour.

  • Small Class Sizes = Big Success

    Small Class Sizes = Big Success

    Dr. Greg Brunton, Director: “Our philosophy here at WISS is to empower and challenge all of our students through an unparalleled IB education. Really simply, what that means is that because we offer all four of the IB programs — and we’re the only school on the Chinese mainland that does this — we know that we can ensure and provide innovative, high quality, inquiry-based learning, through individualized student pathways.

    That’s something I feel we really understand at WISS; that each child is on a different journey.

    Here, we have very small class sizes. We have a huge number of teachers — roughly 140 teachers to around 630 students. We can provide lots of attention in the classroom. We don’t follow a textbook. Furthermore, we provide a curriculum based on best-practices from across the world, reflecting the interests of the student’s, within set guidelines.

    With an inquiry-based approach — a practice that puts students at the center of their own experience and compels them to ask their own questions about the world they encounter — we want students to take ownership of their education and interest in their learning.”

  • The IB Programmes 101

    The IB Programmes 101

    So, what are the IB programs and what does WISS do that makes them unique in continental China?

    The International Baccalaureate consists of four standardized educational programs: the IB Diploma Programme and the IB Career-Related Programme for students aged 15 to 19; the IB Middle Years Programme for students aged 11 to 16; and the IB Primary Years Programme for children aged 3 to 12.

    Oriented to meet the needs of students learning in the 21st century — and continuing their education at top universities around the world — at each stage of a student’s development, the four programs aim to develop new global citizens by fostering intercultural understanding and respect, critical thinking, and community awareness as core principles. These programs inspire students to become proactive, life-long learners, and innovative problem solvers.

    Basically, it turns them into real life Avengers. Their superpowers being that they are very good at life. You want your child to be a real-life Avenger? You should get them in this program school.

    In particular, WISS is the only full continuum IB World School on China's main-land shores offering all four IB programs INCLUDING IBCP to students aged 15 to 19. The IBCP is an education pathway that rewards career-minded students who wish to specialize and develop in a specific area of study.

    On top of that, all of WISS students are IB students. They don’t exclude any enrolled students. It’s rigorous. It’s challenging. A demanding academic undertaking, for most schools around the world, the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) is reserved for honors students and high academic achievers. At WISS, the IB programs are the classroom standard.

  • Nature’s Classroom: Early Years Outdoor Learning

    Nature’s Classroom: Early Years Outdoor Learning

    One of the most unique and inspiring aspects of WISS’s implementation of their IB Primary Years Programme — which you can read more about by clicking that link — is their emphasis on Outdoor Learning. Remember being in school and wishing you could just be outside?

    The Early Years area of the campus is so green and leafy to accommodate the extensive Outdoor Learning lessons incorporated into the inquiry-based education for younger IB students. The outdoor learning areas incorporate a bamboo backdrop into “a natural-elements play space” wherein Early Years students develop personal, social, and conceptual skills. Their explorations are guided towards realizing how science, language, nature, and even math are linked in the real world.

    The approach at WISS is student-centered and based on establishing a bedrock of conceptual understanding that encompasses their academic studies as a whole and enables them to construct meaning in the world beyond the classroom.

    This connective thread — from the individual up through the spheres of ascending community and environment — is a foundational principle of WISS’s educational program and the IB system as a whole.

  • Real-World Impact: Primary Action Cubs at WISS

    Real-World Impact: Primary Action Cubs at WISS

    At this Shanghai oasis of learning, students are inspired to develop their creative and critical thinking skills to not only understand the connections between the classroom and the real world, but also to make a positive impact in both. These kids better get to work! Doing good things. ¡Pronto! Start’em young, if you ask us.

    Examples, please!

    Action Cubs is a damn cute one. It’s like a little student leadership club in the primary grades where they make positive changes within their community. These Action Cubs have organized themselves into “committees” where they volunteer on their own time. They set out to focus on identifying problems, issues, and needs of the school and undertake self-proposed solutions to address them. Check out this really important committee, for example:

    The “Recess Committee” (pictured above!) is wholly concerned with making recess time more enjoyable to their fellow students.

    (A noble undertaking if there ever was one.)

    (Suggestion for the Recess Committee: Double recess time?)

    (You’re welcome.)

    As part of their solution to create more low-cost games and activities for their fellow students, the committee created this Kelso’s Choice Wheel, a game that utilizes a “restorative justice” approach to problem-solving. Even when coming up with games, the students are compelled to think about their places and impact on society. Gorgeous!

  • In the Community at Large: WISS’s Saturday School

    In the Community at Large: WISS’s Saturday School

    Another great way WISS students are bringing their classrooms into the real world and making their communities a better place through service and action is the “Saturday School.” Saturday school? Is this punishment? Not at WISS…

    Running for over a DECADE now, the Saturday School is a volunteer organization of students, staff, and parents teaching English to neighborhood Chinese kids.

    As a wholly volunteer-based service, the Saturday School puts the students in the larger context of their community of Xujing and Shanghai, exposing them to the different backgrounds and economic realities of their peer group.

    Programs like the Saturday School underscore WISS’s emphasis on directly connecting their students to the real world outside the campus. WISS isn’t meant to be a bubble, and they drive this home with programs like this. They create intimate, compassionate knowledge with the greater communities they will join and impact when they grow up.

    The parents and staff help administer and develop the lessons, but it’s the students who do the teaching.

    Post-COVID, the Saturday School has continued to provide English classes by filming lessons for their students in the local community.

  • So, About This Intense IB Diploma Programme…

    So, About This Intense IB Diploma Programme…

    What is going on in that photo, folks? Scheming? Plotting? Try… 11th grade IBDP Design students creating VR headsets for 3rd grade students to use for exploring the world. All done while COVID was raging, and travel was restricted last year. Just one example of the incredible things IB Diploma students do.

    A two-year program, the IBDP is for students in grades 11 and 12, and is internationally regarded as one of the most prestigious and challenging pre-university courses available anywhere. It’s accepted in 3,300 universities in 90 countries, and ideal for students who are looking at continuing their education in top universities, not only in the US but in Europe, Asia, and beyond.

    Evi Singleton, IBDP Coordinator: “For the size of our school, we’re a unique IB school in that we offer so much choice. Students can really personalize their subject matter. We have over 40 different subjects that we offer, and the students select six of those. Within the parameters of the overall IB structure, the students can really personalize their program, catering to their lives beyond us.

    At WISS, we have not attempted to streamline into being an “Arts School” or a “Maths School”. We try to offer diversity and openness for whatever the child may be interested in. In some of our classes, we have just two or three students working with a teacher, but the students are passionate and so we make it work. We want to support them so they have that subject in their portfolio, so they can transition to the next step.” Click Here to learn more about the IBDP at WISS.

  • Only at WISS...Four Innovative Pathways as Part of the IB Career-Related Programme

    Only at WISS...Four Innovative Pathways as Part of the IB Career-Related Programme

    Oh look, a dapper young WISS Tiger. Because of the IBCP program, this gentleman will go on to play Division II soccer in the US!

    Starting in 2017, WISS is the only school on China's mainland offering the IB Career-related Programme (IBCP) as part of the full continuum of IB program. The IBCP is for students who wish to directly engage in career-related learning at the university level, and acquire transferable and lifelong skills that will open the next door to them in their professional careers.

    There are four career-related study options — career pathways — currently available in WISS’s IBCP program: Aeronautics (aeronautical engineering and design, research and development, etc.); Art & Design offered in partnership with the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) (architecture, game design, photography, advertising and branding, performing arts, etc); Business & Sustainability (green entrepreneurship, sustainability programs, fashion, interior design, etc.) in partnership with the Sustainability Management School of Switzerland (SUMAS); and Sports (sports science, nutrition, sports business, coaching, etc.).

    Stewart Paterson, IBCP Coordinator: “The easiest way to describe the IBCP is as the ‘specialist pathway’. It’s for the student who has a real deep interest in one specific area that they know is going to be their focus for their career field when they graduate from WISS and go on to university or straight into the world of work. The IBCP includes the academic rigor of DP courses with the real-world application of their career-focused learning.

    The most recently added pathway is our Aeronautics programme, delivered in partnership with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) in Florida and Singapore, for students who wish to pursue further study in aeronautics, engineering, and aviation business. Students are also guaranteed to move into the second year of their studies when continuing with Embry-Riddle, which is one of the top ranked aeronautical universities in the world — a real high-quality education in a real specific pathway.”

    A quick note about Stewart, he is is one of two faculty at WISS selected by the IB to contribute to the curriculum review cycle for aspects of the CP Core.

    Click Here to learn more about the IBCP Program at WISS.

  • So, Where Are WISS Kids Ending Up?

    So, Where Are WISS Kids Ending Up?

    This is, of course, the question that every parent wants to ask…

    ... and the answer is yes, like the other top international schools in Shanghai, WISS grads are represented at the Top 25 and 50 universities around the world.

    A cursory glance at the university acceptances for the most recent graduates shows names like King’s College London, NYU, University of British Columbia, University College London, University of Edinburgh, University of Manchester, University of Toronto, and more.

    We should also mention: the WISS’s graduating class in 2021 acquired more than 700,000 USD in scholarship offers from universities around the world. The unique aspect of a WISS’s graduating class, however, is what they’re doing as opposed to where they are doing it. WISS grads are going on to study everything from Fine Arts to Business to Mathematics to Sports Medicine to Graphic Design to Photography to Engineering to Psychology to Aeronautics, and more. The sheer diversity of post-graduate subject interest reflects the unique amount of choice available to them only at WISS in Shanghai. Reacting to, and prepared for, a 21st century working environment and new global community, WISS students are forging their own paths into their continuing studies and careers, equipped with the applicable skills, foresight, and knowledge they need to succeed.

    Although still a relatively young school, WISS alumni are already out there in the world making waves. Check out some of their Alumni stories right here.

  • The WISS Foundation – Created by Students

    The WISS Foundation – Created by Students

    The WISS Foundation was established when a student anonymously donated 9,999 RMB as a gesture of appreciation. The purpose is to encourage, recognize, and support innovation which promotes academic achievement, facilitates collaboration, or fosters community. Students, staff, and parents can apply for a grant to use towards funding worthy projects.

    So far, they’ve awarded two grants. The first was used to create the WISS Community Garden, spearheaded by the Nursing Coordinator at the school. They just inaugurated on Earth Day!

    The second grant was given to a group of students who founded a student newspaper. Completely student initiated and led, it began with one student’s idea for her CAS (Creativity, Action, Service) project. Two other students had a similar idea at the same time so they joined together and grabbed their friends, and created a fully functioning editorial structure… Editor in Chief, Marketing and Management, and Photographer/Art Director, and Editors. Faced with a hosting issue with the website they created, they applied for a grant and used the funds to purchase the domain and a license to keep their website up and running.

    Grab a cup of coffee, or tea, or... something stronger, and read about their founding story here.

    Or just go read the The Sapphire itself!

    Pictured above are a few of the change-makers from the newspaper’s founding group.

  • A Parent’s Experience

    A Parent’s Experience

    Lidel Freeman, an obviously fabulous parent: “So, I’m originally from the US. I have one daughter at the school who is graduating this year.

    She came to WISS specifically for the IBCP program, which is just phenomenal. There’s just nothing that compares to it if your child has a specific interest. Ainsley is doing CP - Arts & Design with the Savanah College of Art and Design (SCAD). She wants to do character animation. She’s been an artist pretty much all of her life — that’s been her genre of things she likes to do.

    She’s done an internship for the last two years along with the program at a company here in town called Virtuous, so she’s been working with their artists and getting lots of experience.

    Our deciding factors for choosing WISS? Class sizes alone are fantastic. You’re getting a lot more one-on-one attention with the teachers here. It’s a school that has a lot of the amenities, but at the same time keeps class sizes to where they can get the attention they need. From the younger year students right up to senior level kids.

    It’s also a really great community. I’ve been to other schools here, and the smaller school atmosphere definitely has that community feel. Everyone knows each other and it’s a really good feeling at this school.”

  • Scholarships! A Rarity at International Schools, and WISS Has Them!

    Scholarships! A Rarity at International Schools, and WISS Has Them!

    WISS offers Scholarship for University, IB Diploma Full Academic Scholarships, Outstanding Achievement Partial Scholarships, and Financial Assistance Scholarships. In addition to these in-house scholarships, there are two more incredible opportunities for scholarships through the Western International School of Shanghai’s IB Career-Related Program and partnerships with the Savannah College of Art & Design and FirstPoint USA.

    Click here to learn more about WISS scholarships.

  • 14.

    ‘WISSful Thinking’... THE MOVIE

    Oh. A video! Are these actors? By jove, they're WISS students.

    If anything, this clip highlights unique aspects of teaching and learning at the school that defines them.

    You can tell by the style… this is an institution that does things differently. Defiantly. And all with a little joy and sense of humor.

  • See for Yourself…

    See for Yourself…

    Are you on your way to this glorious city? Already here, but piqued interested? Do you like Tigers?

    Then experience the WISS community spirit yourself and make a WeChat inquiry directly with one of these two lovely ladies.

    (Be rebellious! Skip the forms…!) Add Ms. Bei Lei Tang for Chinese inquiries or Ms. Wai Ling Chiew for English.