TERESA TUNG is on a mission to help young people adapt to our changing world. And, as a Secondary School Principal at Hong Kong Academy (HKA) in Sai Kung, she’s in a great position to see her mission realised.
Preparing students for an uncertain future
Our world is complex and ever-changing, even when we’re not living through a pandemic! In fact, Teresa Tung believes it’s unlikely that today’s teenagers will ever experience the same industrial, linear adult lives that their parents did. So, how can today’s parents prepare their own children for a future that looks so different that we can’t even describe it? It’s an overwhelming concept, but Teresa is striving through her leadership to ensure that HKA students are happily preparing for this uncertain future.
Students solving problems
It’s not just the future that looks different for kids today – it’s school life, too. Cast your mind back to your own classes and it’s likely you remember teachers teaching from textbooks with the help of a black or white board.
Today, modern high schools like HKA search the real world, often their own communities, for problems that students can solve under the guidance of teachers. Parents need not panic, though; traditional sciences like chemistry, biology and physics are still taught in classrooms (only now with smartboards). Yet student interests are catered to in a wide variety of cutting-edge courses. At HKA, for example, students are afforded the opportunity to explore a pointed interest in everything from environmental studies to sports science.
“It’s about inspiring them to learn in the right context,” explains Teresa. “At HKA, through the IB framework, students take integrated science and work on real-world problems. Grade 10 classes choose the problems they want to solve, and pitch solutions to the community.”
When teenagers solve such problems, it helps them build empathy and project management skills, says Teresa. “This drives student agency, it helps them develop the skills to get a good grade – but, more importantly, they’re better able to manage their own time and solve real world problems.”
Agents of change
Beyond academics, and in the midst of a pandemic, how does a school like HKA help students feel safe, have a sense of control and assert themselves as agents of change? “We have many different programmes to help them to know themselves and know the world, and to feel empowered rather than overwhelmed,” says Teresa.
One example that has been instrumental over the past couple of years is the school’s legacy wellbeing programme. Far from a soft and squishy offering, its robust infrastructure has seen HKA students build resilience skills since their first day of enrolment. This has allowed the school community to tackle the unique disruptions of recent times.
The programme includes a focus on intra- and inter-personal skills along with mindfulness strategies, with students given the chance to understand how they’re interacting with others and more.
It means that, when students get thrown into the high-stress environment of COVID isolations and long stretches of home learning, the school is able to help them activate their strategies and cope with challenges like conflict resolution.
The benefits of implementing the kind of forward-thinking academic and pastoral programmes that can be seen at HKA seem pretty clear. And those benefits snowball into some excellent results for the school.
“Our students graduate to great universities and incredible roles,” says Teresa. Read the story below of one such HKA student, Cherry, and you’ll see that she’s right!
CHERRY LEE, one of HKA’s recent graduates, shares her experiences of the school.
My name is Cherry and I joined HKA in 2014 as a Grade 6 student having attended a local primary school. My parents did a lot of research about international secondary school options and were attracted to HKA because of the international diversity amazing facilities and co-curricular opportunities. Perhaps even more importantly, they were impressed by how happy and confident the students were in their studies – and they wanted that for me.
I graduated in May 2021, and when I reflect upon my time at HKA I appreciate how the school had a positive impact on my wellbeing and supported me as I shaped my identity. As a new student in Grade 6 all the way through my final years in the IB Diploma, I benefitted from the warm and caring community and the small class sizes. The teachers really knew me as an individual and were so knowledgeable and passionate about their subjects. When the workload was high, the teachers were very flexible and found ways to mentor and motivate us through it; I always felt comfortable to approach them when I needed help.
The teachers also encouraged me to balance my studies with sporting, creative and service activities. I represented the school in an international maths competition, competed in an HKA sports team, built a website to showcase my Grade 10 personal project and also worked as a student intern mentoring primary school kids during the school’s summer activity programme and afterschool ceramics classes.
What I found most rewarding was the joy that I discovered through service and giving back to others. My interest and dedication to this built over time, starting with units of study in Individuals and Societies classes and growing through my involvement with community projects and the Global Citizens Diploma (GCD) programme. As the founding member and leader of HKA’s ImpactHK student group, I advocated for the homeless and participated in monthly “kindness walks” for over three years. I also worked as a volunteer at a charity in HK that supports children with terminal diseases. I was inspired by their positivity and this reinforced my desire to make an impact in the lives of others.
In 2019, I was honoured to receive the Kiwanis Community Service Award, a local and international award that recognises extended service and contribution to communities in need. I was successful in my pursuit of an IB Diploma, completing Higher Levels in Psychology, Mandarin and Music and Standard Levels in English, Maths and Environmental Systems and Societies.
I’m now studying Educational Psychology at University College London in the UK, with the longer term goal of working in a job which advances the psychological wellbeing of children.”
Hong Kong Academy Secondary School is at 33 Wai Man Road, Sai Kung.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.