SINGAPORE: It was all fun and games in the first two hours of school, until parents had to leave.
Then the bawling started.
This is what separation anxiety looks like at the start of every school year, and the scene at the new Fern Green Primary was no different on Tuesday (Jan 2).
After all, entering primary school marks one of the first rites of independence.
Homemaker Farhana Zeyaulhaq said she initially felt emotional about seeing her firstborn Mohammad Salman starting primary 1.
“But I also feel happy that he is going through another milestone, so he will be more independent in time to come,” she added.
Another parent, Jessica Matthias, said her son Matthias Gunaraman seemed nervous, but she was confident that he was in good hands.
“Everybody has to go through that phase and now it's his turn. So I just hope to be able to coach him as he goes by,” she mused.
Fern Green Primary is the latest addition to the Sengkang area, bringing the total count to 12 primary schools in the non-mature estate.
Ms Jesslyn Lim and her husband said they chose the school as it was next to their flat, while another couple were drawn to the new facilities.
The school includes a student care centre and will house a Ministry of Education (MOE) kindergarten from 2019 onwards.
Fern Green Primary currently has 240 primary one pupils, and a staff strength of 40.
Parents like Ms Farhana were unfazed by the absence of older pupils.
“I feel more assured because the cohort is smaller so my son has more attention from the teachers. For example, during recess, I'm happy that the teachers will be there instead of a buddy system,” she said.
Fern Green Primary organised an orientation day in December to help parents and pupils settle in.
Parents toured the school premises, while pupils were ushered to classrooms, where they met their classmates and teachers for the first time.
At one point, there was a slight hiccup with the sale of uniforms as there were not enough of the right sizes available. But the issue was quickly resolved as teachers stepped in to assure frazzled parents that the uniforms would be re-stocked as soon as possible.
It was clear that the team had handled similar situations before – something which principal May Tang looked at when recruiting staff.
“We selected applicants who are experienced in teaching lower primary. They must have a minimum three years of experience and preferably be STELLAR-trained,” Mrs Tang said, referring to a programme for language learning.
She added that her staff are also open to conducting outdoor programmes. In fact, works on an obstacle course are already underway.
The school has plans to run the Programme for Active Learning (PAL) from the second term onwards. Under PAL, pupils will be introduced to outdoor activities and sports education.
OLD SCHOOLS, NEW NAMES
Fern Green Primary was set up to cater for rising demand in Sengkang.
But this comes at a time when falling enrolment in mature estates are forcing mergers between established schools.
Some 200 students and dozens of teachers who once streamed into the now-defunct Bishan Park Secondary along Sin Ming Walk now make a beeline for Peirce Secondary, at the end of the road.
Bishan Park and Peirce Secondary are two out of four pairs of secondary schools merging this year due to falling enrolment.
The others are Bedok North and Damai Secondary, Chong Boon and Yio Chu Kang Secondary, and Greenview and Loyang Secondary.
To cope with the transition, teachers in Bishan Park and Peirce Secondary met last year to discuss curriculum changes, staff deployment and classroom structures.
These included converting some classrooms in Peirce Secondary to accommodate new teaching staff. More common spaces were also freed up for student activities.
Secondary 2 students in both schools sat for similar assessments to standardise the streaming process. They were also given the same set of subject combinations to choose from.
These students, who are now in Secondary 3, are now classmates with their peers from the other school.
But senior students sitting for national examinations this year will continue taking lessons with their original classes and teachers, to minimise disruption to them.
MAKING THE SWITCH
Former Bishan Park Secondary teacher Stephanie Lee, who now teaches at Peirce, told Channel NewsAsia that students were initially anxious about integrating into the new environment. Most were also concerned about the fate of their school clubs.
Fortunately, most of the co-curricular activities (CCA) offered in both schools were similar, so bringing the clubs together was a relatively smooth process.
Secondary Two students also attended a combined adventure camp last year to get to know each other. This helped the students prepare themselves for the merger.
Peirce Secondary student Dela Rosa Nico Arcelo, who plays in the school band, said: “I felt anxious about the merger, mostly because I was uncertain about how students from both schools would interact, especially the two sets of student leaders in the council and various CCA groups.”
He soon found out that a little compromise can go a long way.
“We had combined training sessions and even put up a joint performance in Sentosa in 2017. After a couple of meet-ups, we got to know them a lot better,” the secondary 4 student said.
Former Bishan Park student Eunice Koo agreed, although she initially had reservations about leaving three years of memories behind.
"When I left the school, it was sad to bid farewell to the many memories we made. This included saying goodbye to some teachers. But now that I am actually here, I realise I can make many new friends, more memories and seek more opportunities too,” she said.
Mrs Betty Chow, the school’s principal, is also confident that the students and staff would get used to the new arrangements in the next few months.
“I think that there will definitely be adaptation issues. But children being young and exuberant, with a positive mindset, they will surely be able to get through these changes,” she said.
Peirce Secondary now features a heritage wall complete with artworks, a brief history of Bishan Park Secondary and its green and white uniform.