Beijing, China Report of what it's like to live there - 06/13/23
Personal Experiences from Beijing, China
1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?
I am a parent.
2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?
5, 6, 9, 11 grade to start off and now are in 7, 8, 11 and graduated.
3. What years did you live here?
4. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?
5. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?
There are over 20 international schools in Beijing--many choices! The principal at our previous international school said both ISB and WAB are excellent schools and ISB is more “Chinese.” For our son on the spectrum, ISB was the only school which made the investment to provide the level of support that would allow him to attend. Our 3 other middle and high school aged children looked at the school website for both schools and felt more drawn to ISB.
Admissions & Welcome:
1. Are the admissions and placement procedures clearly stated to prospective families, either on the school website or through other means of communication?
Procedures are clearly stated. Admissions was very supportive and responsive.
2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
Each of the kids had a buddy to welcome them and show them around the school, even though we arrived late in the school year. For our kids it was pretty seamless. For parents it was harder because we arrived during COVID times and had limited access to campus. Off-campus and online events were organized to help provide opportunities to connect for parents.
Administration & School Procedures:
1. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
There is a weekly newsletter that is nicely organized to help you find information relevant to your child’s division. Teachers respond promptly and are welcoming to emails from parents. Some teachers send updates when they are beginning a new unit, which I really appreciate, and some write blogs you can follow.
2. Aside from school fees, are there required expenses such as uniforms, laptops/tablets, musical instruments, or field trips that parents are expected to cover? What are the approximate costs?
The school provides the devices required for students which was a huge difference from other schools and a major relief for our large family! Elementary uses iPads which remain at school and MS and HS have a MacBook they can bring home. No uniforms except for PE which are provided. PTA also gives t-shirts and travel team bags. If your child travels for their academic, music or sports team, you will need to pay the cost for the trip. Cost depends on which city/country your child is traveling to! For us it has ranged from $100-400. Travel and field trips that are part of the curriculum are free.
Academics & Resources:
1. What personal or academic counseling resources are available at this school? Is there a dedicated college counselor at the school? Is he/she familiar with universities worldwide?
There is a large counseling staff available to kids. We have loved our MS counselor who has moved up with our middle schooler’s grade each year. In HS each student has two counselors-one for social-emotional and one for university counseling. There is a tremendous amount of support for both aspects. We have received very valuable, personalized support. They definitely know each of our kids personally and have advocated and provided for their needs individually, allowing them to pursue their passions at a higher level and helping our oldest to find a great university where he has been very happy this last year.
2. Is there before and/or after-school daycare available? What are the costs?
3. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?
Our kids are all book lovers and are very happy with the libraries’ selection. I love the attractive and cozy spaces they provide and their commitment to stocking it with literature that is representative of people of different races, cultures, experiences and abilities.
4. What are the technology requirements for students? Do they need their own laptops/ipads? How is technology integrated into the classroom and homework?
School provides devices. Technology is heavily integrated but there is also effort to balance screen time with assignments off of the screen. Students are now learning to be thoughtful about using the Chat GPT--what is appropriate and helpful and what is not.
5. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?
Technology is up to date. Devices are 1 to 1 and serviced on-site for free. They have several state of the art maker spaces that are rather astounding.
6. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
There are 4 full gyms, soccer fields, baseball fields, a really nice track, plus more gym space, soccer fields and tennis courts in the two domes. The domes were built to provide clean air space for athletics and play on bad air days. The swimming pool is 25 meters and every child gets a swimming unit in PE. There is also a cool, challenging climbing wall used in PE. Families get together and use the facilities after hours and on the weekends.
7. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
Ratio is about 1:8; higher in classes with learning support or language support push in staff; in the Life Centered Education classroom for students with intensive support needs it is 1:1.
8. Are Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses available in upper grades? If this is an IB school, is the full diploma required of all students?
ISB is a full IB Diploma school but offers IB certificate or a ISB diploma. They are adding classes that are not IB classes, but the majority are IB classes. Looking at offering AP classes in the future.
9. Are students generally challenged appropriately by the curriculum? Please describe any particular strengths or weaknesses in this area. Do you have any thoughts how the curriculum is applied and implemented at this school?
Curriculum is challenging for most kids and our kids find it engaging. They love how their teachers make it come alive. The pace can be fast starting in 8th grade and there is opportunity in the flex periods 3 days a week to meet with teachers if kids have questions or need some more help or time on a project. My kids are aware that many of their classmates employ tutors outside of school. This semester we started a weekly Chinese language tutor for our high schooler in IB Chinese as he has taken one less year of Chinese language than most of his classmates. There are designated Wellness Weekends every month or so where teachers are not permitted to assign homework so kids can catch up or have more rest--this is an area for improvement for ISB as our kids have had to advocate for themselves to remind teachers to stick to this rule. Students at ISB generally study hard and perform at very high levels.
10. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
No much homework for elementary or in 6th and 7th grade. It has ticked up a bit in 8th grade. My highschooler in 9th and 10th did not seem to spend much time on homework, but there is much more homework demanded by the IB curriculum in 11th and 12th grade. My graduate told me in 12th grade he had to communicate with teachers and to discern for himself which work to leave undone because there simply was not enough time to do it all in addition to his sports, community service, and balanced social life. He managed it successfully, but it was quite stressful until he figured it out. Overall IB was a good experience for him but I do not believe the IB program is a good fit for every student.
11. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
Choir, Music Studio, Film Music, Band, Orchestra, Drama, Art, Photography, Film and more are available--what I have seen is very impressive. My son has improved dramatically after he joined band here compared with before.
12. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?
All the teachers speak English fluently.
13. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
Our son was empowered by student support services and the high school counselor to construct a unique path that allows him to pursue mathematics beyond the IB High Level Math that high schools offer. He is taking online classes from a US university and enjoying the challenge these courses afford him. The staff had to go out of their way to arrange it, including testing to justify it, and we appreciate their efforts. For all students, there is enrichment offered in a “push in” format. When our middle schooler wanted more challenge in math, his teacher provided some more creative and challenging extension materials and invited him to the math club that meets after school.
14. What services are available for students with learning disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
ISB has learning support at all grade levels for students with mild to severe learning needs. There is both push in and pull out learning support. Additionally, there is a Life Centered Education (LCE) classroom that is now in its third year. Students with Downs Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and on the autism spectrum have been individually supported and brought together to form community with one another as well as included with their same age peers whenever possible. Our son takes his core subjects 1:1 in the LCE and integrates into Spanish 2, Choir and a special Science class formed for him and one other student who is mostly integrated with her grade level for all her other classes. ISB employs 2 speech therapists, a school psychologist, and contracts with Occupational Therapists to come on campus to provide services. The commitment ISB has made to learning support is unsurpassed in Beijing. The culture of the community in Beijing at large is to deny and hide disabilities so there is important work happening as students and parents see and interact with differently-abled kids.
15. What services are available for students with physical disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
The school is fully wheelchair accessible and it is possible to get 1:1 aide when needed for a child’s support.
16. What services are provided for speakers of English as a second language at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
The school has a robust English as an Additional Language program to support English language learners. Classroom teachers are supported with push in EAL teachers.
17. What extra-curricular activities (including sports) are available at this school? Have your children participated in these activities? What activities do you feel are missing at the school?
Soccer, Volleyball (boys and girls), Baseball, Softball, Basketball, Crosscountry, Track and Field, year round Swimming, Touch Rugby, Model United Nations, Robotics, Film Club, Students Against Bias and Racism, Habitat for Humanity, Roots and Shoots, Math Club, Drama Club, Cooking Club, ukulele class, you name it, they’ve pretty much got it! Kid can start their own clubs and receive some funding as well. Our kids play a sport every season and are part of multiple clubs that they love!
Social & Emotional Well-Being:
1. What is the climate for children with special needs? Is there a general attitude of inclusion for children with special needs?
ISB has made the investment to offer the greatest amount of inclusion for special needs in Beijing, and is one of a handful of its kind in the world.They accept children with mild to severe special needs. The Learning Centered Education (LCE) classroom uses best practices to accommodate children with intensive special needs and also integrates them with their assigned same age typical peers classroom as much as possible. Children with undiagnosed needs still often, though not always, find themselves with defacto accommodations because teachers often recognize their needs or learn about it from parents even when the child has not been evaluated. On the other side,there have been instances of children not receiving their accommodations for more mild needs in the main stream classroom. The system for alerting teachers has been revamped to avoid this failure in the future. Historically, the approach of the host country culture at large has been to deny and mask special needs, so the school has both an opportunity and a challenge to educate children, parents and community members about neurodiversity to promote greater inclusion and acceptance. LCE invites other classes and groups of children into their classroom for thoughtful interactions, which has been very positive and successful.
2. What is the climate for LGBT+ kids at this school? Are there resources they can draw upon? Does there appear to be any exclusionary behavior?
There is a student-led, faculty supported club that leads events such as pride week every year. My impression is that the climate is accepting among both students and faculty. The library has many resources that represent different identities and family constructions.
3. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
All of students must be expats in order to attend the school. That said, there are definitely tables at lunch where kids are clustered according to their native language, and other tables where kids are integrated but share some other common interest like a sports team or club they do together. At the elementary level, kids tend to also play according to their native language. Building better community across groups is one of the school’s strategic focus areas for this year and next.
4. Are there are any problems with exclusionary behavior, cliques, or bullying at this school? Please describe any problems your children may have experienced in this area.
None of my children have experienced it, but I have heard of exclusionary behavior from other parents. The school has a proactive, well developed anti-bullying curriculum and counselors get involved when an instance of exclusion or inappropriate behavior occurs, looping in principals as needed.
5. What is the climate for students who identify as ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious minorities at this school? Are there resources they can draw upon? Have your children had any experiences in this area?
My children are both racial and religious minorities at the school. They have not had negative experiences. If they did, I believe they would feel comfortable to take advantage of the counselor’s help.
6. What can you say about diversity among the faculty and staff at the school and their experience in supporting minority students?
There is impressive diversity with in our faculty and staff as well as a Diversity and Inclusion director new as of last year who advises a student group focused on identifying and combating bias. I do not know specifics about staff supporting minority students.
1. What letter grade (ranging from A, excellent, to F, fail) would you assign to this school based on your overall experience? Would you choose it again?
2. Please describe some of your child's/children's highlights and challenges during their time at this school.
My children have delighted in having classmates from all over the world and opportunities to try so many different activities. They have become leaders in their clubs and sports which is a fantastic opportunity for growth, as well as felt challenged and engaged in their academics. Another highlight is the relationships they have formed with their teachers. My graduate was so eager to go back and visit his teachers when he visited this year. COVID was a huge challenge, blocking and canceling, forcing us online, making everything unpredictable and China only opened up in January of 2023.
3. Please tell us anything else you think prospective parents and students should know about this school. Thanks for your contribution!
The location is very convenient for families working for the government as one of our housing pools is a 7 minute drive/ 15-20 minute bike ride from the campus. So happy our kids do not need to commute!
Our family extended our time in Beijing, even in the middle of COVID challenges, because our kids are happy at school.