This year, Woodland Pre-Schools chalks up 40 years of operating in Hong Kong. We asked some members of the school community to share memories of their time with the group, and to reflect on its longevity and success.
Tita Aguado, from the Philippines, teaches at Woodland Montessori Academy, Mid-Levels
started working for Woodland in August 1992 at Repulse Bay Road. The highlight of my time was when I was teaching the Prep for Primary class. I was surrounded by eight bright young minds, enthusiastic to learn and curious to know everything about the world. I had an opportunity to devise new ways of teaching, formulate different teaching strategies and invent ways in which learning could be made fun for them. Most of all, I developed a vocation that required daily dedication and patience to teach and contribute to the shaping of future generations.
What I enjoy the most about working at Woodland is when my old students come and visit me. Hong Kong is a very transient place and most of my students moved overseas, but when they come back to HK, especially Repulse Bay, they remember me and want to see if I’m still around. This can sometimes make me feel a little old, but it’s mostly a nice feeling to have been remembered fondly by a former student!
Canadian Beverley Danklou is a teacher at Woodland Peak Pre-School
I moved to Hong Kong in November 1994 and started working for Woodland in the summer of 1995. I first worked at the Caine Road campus before moving to Happy Valley, and finally to the Peak campus where I’m currently based. I’ve been working for Woodland for over 22 years.
My highlights at the school have been all the fun Christmas parties Woodland has had, dressing up in different themed costumes, getting to know many different staff members and making firm friends within the school. I particularly love celebrating different festivities within our campus – it’s always great seeing the children and parents make such a great effort in their costumes and clothing.
Most of all, working with children from a variety of backgrounds and various nationalities has been a splendid experience, with lots of laughs and stories to share. It’s sad saying goodbye to the children, especially when you’re able to see them grow from such a young age, but it’s always a great surprise when they pay me a visit. When they leave Woodland, it fills me with pride when they get accepted into their preferred school and knowing I had some part in their achievement
Mark Western is Head of School at Woodland Pok Fu Lam Pre-School
I’ve been working in the education field for 25 years. Originally from Canada, I started working at Woodland in 2007.
The highlight has been building (and maintaining) a core team of talented teachers that are dedicated to their profession and committed to this campus. We’re proud to have a high retention rate. The average number of years for teachers working here is 6.2. For a preschool, that’s outstanding.
I think the key to the school’s longevity is choosing the right staff, a commitment to “CANI” – Constant and Never-ending Improvement – beautiful, spacious facilities, and having the right balance of play and academics.
Damian and Mariko Ordish have four children who have each attended The Woodland Sai Kung Pre-School
Woodland is a great starter school. We have loved the energy, passion and enthusiasm of the entire teaching staff, particularly Ms Angela, the Head of School. Each one of our children has enjoyed going to Woodland; they turn up every morning looking forward to school and come out every day with big smiles on their faces. There’s a big focus on communication between the school and parents – either through live conversations, or through the daily journal and weekly newsletter – that makes us feel connected with our children’s education. The kids have loved the hands-on, practical approach of a child-centric education. At Woodland, they really “do”, as opposed to just being told what to do! Wo!
Simmi and Sunny Malhotra’s two children both attended Woodland Pre-Schools
Mahan (born 2001) went to Peak Pre-School under the watch of Mrs Sealy, and Miya (born 2007) attended the Wah Fu campus under the watch of Mr Mark. The Peak Pre-School was such a quaint, cosy setting that instantly reminded me of nursery back in the UK, and I felt that the small class size and friendly atmosphere would suit Mahan. Meeting Michel Sealy (Head of School at the time) finalised our decision as I was immediately comfortable and knew that I would be able to approach her if we had any concerns.
Having had the best first experience, second time around was even easier. We simply called Michel, who had moved to Head Office, and asked her which school would be appropriate for our daughter who had just turned two years old and was so eager to go to “school”! Miya started at Tree House in Scenic Villas in Pok Fu Lam where we lived at the time. Then she got a place at Wah Fu.
One of the highlights for me was the fact that so many different festivals were celebrated in what was a completely multicultural classroom; this was something I personally loved about Woodland. One year, during the Diwali festival, Mahan brought ladoos (a popular Indian sweet) for all the staff and students; I remember him being chuffed when I told him it was mentioned in the Friday newsletter. Another highlight involved eight-year-old Mahan coming to perform a magic show during a mini class celebration for Miya’s third birthday.
The children left Woodland with a huge amount of confidence and have always had a wonderful sense of class community spirit amongst their friends. They both also still remember small parts about being at Woodland, which is lovely and a testament to Woodland being such a great start to school life.
Michel Sealy has been with Woodland for 19 years, and is currently the group’s Deputy General Manager.
In your opinion, what makes Woodland stand out?
With history and longevity on our side, we’ve established a solid reputation amongst young local and expatriate families, and become renowned as a prestigious, dependable, enriching preschool group. We offer Montessori and traditional teaching methods, and have a proven track record when it comes to gaining entry into international primary schools. Forty years is a great achievement.
What do you put this longevity down to?
Woodland is a family-run business. The founders remain committed and passionate about maintaining and delivering quality Early Years education. To achieve this, they’ve had to adapt – Woodland today is very different from Woodland 40 years ago! I’ve seen great changes in the 19 years I’ve been with the group too. The needs of families when it comes to education are forever changing and it’s vital to keep abreast of these changes to meet parental expectations.
Another asset for us is our incredible teachers. We are lucky to have over 250 wonderful staff, the majority of whom have been with us for several years, but we also have a few who have been with us for 20 to 25 years and who bring a wealth of experience, continuity and stability to the group.
Do you think the founders expected the group to grow and expand the way it has?
No! They had no idea when they opened their first school on Caine Road in the same premises we’re in now, with just four children, that their seventh grandchild would attend the school 40 years later!
Growth has brought a wonderfully diverse teaching staff that reflects the truly international nature of our children and their families – we have teachers from 22 countries and children from over 40 countries.
Many of our alumni represent elite professionals in Hong Kong and are now entrusting their own children into our care. Certainly, the founders would not have imagined this longevity.
Do you have a highlight or favourite memory you could share?
I have countless fond memories of my time with Woodland. During my 19 years, I’ve made many good friends, not only with colleagues, but with parents too. I remember innumerable gorgeous children from my Peak days and the hilarious things they said and did, but for me, the best time to be in a Woodland Pre-School is in the run up to Christmas. The songs the children sang, the dressing up, the Christmas craft, the expectant squeals of delight when Santa came into school ringing his bell – they’re all priceless memories. The thing I loved the most though, was the Christmas nativity performed in our lovely garden at Stewart Terrace. It was so heartwarming, it got me every time, and still does when I attend the annual Christmas concerts in each of our nine schools!
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This article first appeared in the February/March 2018 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.