Monday, January 05, 2009

St Gabriel's

Just recording some of my thoughts about St Gab's while they are still fresh.

We went for the campfire on the last night of Isaac's orientation camp at school. So many parents turned up that the boys had to sit on the floor because the parents took up their bench space! I think the school found this large turn-out a bit unexpected too. They seemed equally pleasantly surprised at the larger than expected numbers that came for the Dec 19 registration briefing. In previous years, the numbers were a lot smaller. What does this mean? More concerned parents this batch? It can only be good for the school.

The campfire was not a total fantastic success in part thanks to the zombie-like, half-hearted attitudes of the Sec 1 boys. I'd chalk it down to fatigue, shyness or apathy, but I'd still really like to shake these boys to wake them up - Isaac included! Here was a great campfire, such enthusiastic, hardworking GLs and there were the Sec 1s, acting half-dead!

Kudos to the senior Group Leaders (GLs)though! They were really working hard to energise the boys in the cheers - largely fell flat but a real A-star for effort! Funniest part of the night came when the St Gab's boys called for 'thanksgiving' - purported a school tradition - to encourage anyone to come up and offer their thanks to whoever they wished. As usual, no response from the near brain-dead Sec 1s - until a plump, cute little Indian boy stepped up to the plate. Looks like he was 'sabo-ed' because he pointed an "I'm-gonna-get-you-for-this" finger at his giggly mates accusingly as he took the mike. This boy was so adorable - he thanked his mother and sister "sitting right there in the middle" (pointed to them), for coming and for supporting him and gruffly saying that he loves them from the bottom of his heart (pumped fist to heart for emphasis).

I came away from the place with a sense of how much the senior boys loved their school and the strong sense of fellowship and camaraderie they had. Several of the boys had lost their voices shouting and cheering over the two days of the camp, but not their sense of fun. Quite a number of teachers were also there. Even their teacher, Mr Foo, radiated a strong sense of love and pride in the school. I gleaned all this from the way they behaved and the things they said.

I was also gratified and impressed to learn that Isaac's form teacher, Mrs Foong, stayed with her boys overnight throughout the camp, and walked the path with them, gamely taking part in activities, hiking with them etc. I don't know if she was the only form teacher to do so, but I'm glad it was Isaac's teacher who did so!

Later at the end of the night, as the boys went back to their classrooms to get their bags, we parents also accompanied them. Isaac's class was the only class still seated in the room, parents gathered outside, as the teacher spoke to the boys and to the parents. I was glad to see that she made the effort and the time for one last pep talk to the boys, and parents.

Mrs Foong is a Chinese teacher, so her English isn't that great. But the love for what she does, the passion to nurture her boys, the commitment that shone from her, was all so palpable. She spoke to the boys about attitude being the key to success, about respect, particularly to their parents. Mrs Foong told the boys: "If you can't even respect your parents, then who on earth can you respect? So boys, don't let me hear that you are rude to them, or you disrespect them. You will be in trouble with me! Your parents and I work together to help you. So please, don't disrespect them!"

She also sought our understanding that there may be times when she may be "very strict with the boys" and to work with her closely. Gee, I felt like applauding and saying: Its okay, go right ahead please! You have my permission to be as strict as you like!!

One of the GLs standing there later said the same thing: Yes, Mrs Foong is strict but the boys who come through her class tend to do very well. He says this from experience because he too, was from her class once. But, he also stressed, it still boils down to the boys, what they want, their attitude etc.

Later the GLs and Mrs Foong highlighted five boys whom they said had "done very well" in the camp and the boys stood up, looking a bit embarrassed but clearly happy to have a round of applause from all the parents and their classmates.

After giving each boy their 'prize' for winning one of the games/activities in the camp, the boys were dismissed.

It appears to me that the school seems to have very committed teachers who go out of their way for the boys. When we came for our impromptu visit last year and met Joey, that lovely boy who happens to be a GL too (we saw him there that night too and even before that, he had recognised KH and Isaac from the first day of registration!), Joey and the other student leader that brought us around told us that their teachers were first-rate - in that they genuinely cared for the boys and would spend time helping them and giving extra coaching where necessary. Even my neighbour Luke, who studies in St Gab's, said this.

I cynically dismissed it just a nice PR line. But from my interactions with the teachers during the registration, the campfire, I think Joey and Luke are right. I see in them, an enthusiasm for what they do, intense pride and loyalty for the school and caring commitment for the boys under their charge. And in the boys too, this very strong sense of school pride, bonding and school spirit. I did not see this in SJI Jr, nor in any of my other children's schools. In fact, the closest I have seen to this is 22 years ago in RJC and among my RI friends. That kind of palpable school pride and bonding. I certainly did not expect to get all this from St Gab's.

I think the people maketh the school. The students and the teachers are the face of the school. And if a school churns out well-mannered, helpful, proactive, respectful young men like Joey, Luke and the other GLs I saw that night, and has committed and passionate teachers like Mr Foo and Mrs Foong on their staff, right down to the very helpful school clerk we met earlier, then the school must be doing something right. This is the heartware they have gotten down to a 'T'. The 'hardware' - ie the L1B4, the other achievements etc, is just one part of the picture.

I only wish more people knew about this, knew about what this school could offer. Maybe then, it would not be a 'no-choice first choice' as it was for me. Bluntly put, it would not languish behind the other more prestigious Catholic boys' schools like Maris Stella, Catholic High or SJI, as what I can best describe as a 'second-tier' school, and instead, come to the fore as a boys' school of choice.

I came away with a real buzz of excitement from what I had seen from the campfire, from seeing Mrs Foong, the GLs etc. Maybe its early days yet but I believe Isaac is in good hands and I thank God for this - truly, He knows best. Despite my lamenting about Isaac not getting to SJI, He knows best and put us on this path. Yes, St Gab's was not my first choice and really was a choice that arose out of a lack of other viable choices. But in the days that have passed, in the people I have met, what I have seen and through all I have encountered, I am slowly changing my mind.

Whether or not he eventually does well and makes it to a good JC is one thing. But here, character-wise, I suspect this place will be the making of him.


ee lin said...

PTL!! I'm so glad for Isaac n for you. I truly truly believe tt God is taking care of him n watching out for him. I'm so glad. tt St Gab has turned out to be such a good choice. Yes, God is building up a man out of your boy. So exciting.

barbs said...

glad to hear that things are going smoothly. you are awfully quiet!