Secondary Principal’s Letter

Introducing Xi’an Liangjiatan Middle School and High School

Secondary Principal       Daun Yorke

Throughout the history of XLIS (formerly XHIS) there has been a secondary school that covers seven grades of education. Moving to our brand new campus that covers a land area of 68,666 square meters, it became clear that we needed to look at creating two distinct sections within the secondary division. When we arrived at the beautiful new campus, our younger secondary learners were finding it challenging to navigate the three-story building and were letting us know through their actions that they needed us to pay attention to their unique stage of physical and emotional development. For the older students, the transition to the new campus seemed much smoother. We are reminded, through these observations that older students are at very different cognitive and social-emotional stages than their younger peers.

▲Secondary teachers talk about the benefits of middle school model

In December, 2018, the secondary teachers formed a think-tank to share their feedback regarding the single secondary division and how they perceived it was working. The question was asked if we needed to consider a Middle School, High School model for the coming years. Teachers completed surveys, talked about their own transition from primary to secondary school and considered how the transition was currently working for our students.

▲ Incoming Middle School Lead Teacher, Sarah Rigal interviews PYP 6 students about how they are feeling about the transition to secondary

▲ Principal, Daun Yorke & Teacher, Sarah Rigal lead Parent Coffee Morning about the Middle 

In January, teacher Sarah Rigal and I met with MYP One and MYP Two students and asked them questions about their transitions from primary to secondary school. We asked how the transition had gone from their perspective and any suggestions they might have for designing the transition for the future. Students completed individual surveys and took part in group data collecting activities. We held a Coffee Morning for MYP One and Two parents. The parents went through a mindfulness visualization activity to bring them back to their own Middle School experience and to help them recall their transition from primary school to secondary. Student and teacher data was shared with the parents. Next, we met with PYP6 students and asked them about their hopes and concerns about the transition to secondary. The students’ concerns were quite consistent throughout the grade levels regarding transitions. The things that stood out were concerns about increased assessment and workload in secondary.

▲ MYP One and Two Parents view the data about PYP MYP transition from PYP 6, MYP 1 & 2 students and Secondary teachers

Data from teachers, students and parents was shared with the senior leadership team and a proposal was shared for a distinct Middle School(MYP1-3), High School (MYP4/5-DP)model with a lead teacher in each newly formed section. The proposal was accepted and next year, Sarah Rigal will be the Lead teacher for Middle School and Kevin McGarry will be the Lead Teacher for High School as well as the Head of Houses for our Dynasty Groups.  We are very excited about the latest evolution at XLIS. Teachers have been meeting and starting to plan for the separate Middle and High School divisions for several months now.  Part of the change will see Middle School students in smaller communities where they will have a homeroom space that they will help to design. They will see less teachers in MYP One and Two with a single teacher for Maths and Science and a teacher for Language Literature and Individuals and Societies. Instead of traveling to nine different classrooms over the course of the week, some teachers will come to their homerooms. Our goal is to make the middle school a kinder, gentler place for our young learners with a smooth transition from PYP to MYP.

▲Teachers discussing their findings

Last month, Sarah Rigal, Kevin McGarry and I travelled to Beijing to visit the middle school at the Western Academy of Beijing. WAB is famous across Asia and the world, leading with innovation and personalized learning. We learned a great deal about pastoral care initiatives and how to expand our Dynasty House program and utilize our library as a centre of learning. The teachers and leaders in the WAB Middle School were generous and inspiring. In the high school, we plan for a smoother transition as well. Some student surveys indicated that the transition from MYP 3 to MYP4 felt like a steep climb. We want to keep the climb from grade to grade more gradual for our students. 

▲ MYP3 students share their opinion openly

▲ Dp students share their wisdom

Our goal in setting up these two divisions is to be developmentally responsive to the needs of all of our learners. This is an example of data-driven and research-based school improvement. We have looked at the data from within the school and the research about cognitive development, social and emotional learning from around the world. From March through April, I held several Town Hall meetings with MYP3, 4, 5 and DP 1 school groups to gather data about their happiness factor and to collect their input about how we could build a strong High School section. A special meeting was held for DP2 students to gauge their happiness and also collect suggestions from students in their last year at XLIS about school improvement. The DP2 students were generally positive and happy as they prepared for their upcoming DP exams but they provided some sage wisdom with recommendations for future improvement.

▲Town hall meeting with secondary principal and myp4 students

▲ Dp1 students voice their opinions

The happiness rating for students in the seven grades of secondary is high with over 90% of the 123 student respondents indicating they are happy at school.  75% of students indicated that they were happy with the unstructured times (lunch and morning break and after school) while 92% indicated they are happy with the structured time (class time and teaching and learning). The happiness factor is high for students at XLIS Secondary but that does not mean that there are not areas for us to improve upon. Collectively, we will look at areas that indicated needing improvement from the surveys. What can we do to improve unstructured time for students and how can we help alleviate the anxiety around assessments? Students commented that they were most concerned about assessments and least concerned about learning English as an additional language. They are feeling like they are really being supported with their English learning through immersion at the school. 

▲ Daun Yorke hunkering down with MYP students

The goal for secondary is to continue surveying students, teachers and parents each year and to take on board their feedback in an attempt to constantly improve. Surveys will go out to all parents before the end of the year so we can incorporate collective feedback into our planning for next year and monitor our success rate, year after year. We look forward to sharing more information about the new Middle School, High School initiatives at the upcoming Student-Led Conferences May 17th and at the Parent Evenings in August. Thanks to all the secondary students, teachers and MYP One and Two parents for their honest and open feedback.