Integrated International School: SME Excellence Business Award 2021/2022
Founder of IIS, Dr. Vanessa von Auer
They say education is a lifelong process, but it is often the childhood and adolescent years that have the deepest impact on the trajectory of a person’s life. That is why education in those years needs to imbue children with the confidence and self-belief to face the challenges ahead of them, by teaching with inclusiveness to show every child – regardless of their preferred learning styles – that they are brilliant in their own right.
The Integrated International School (IIS) was founded in 2009 by Dr. Vanessa von Auer, a Clinical Psychologist with a great passion for working with children and adolescents. The school caters to international students and Singaporean students with MOE exemptions, offering two teaching approaches: one for mainstream students, and another for students with learning difficulties. As one of the few international schools in Singapore running these two approaches synchronously, IIS ensures all their students can learn and grow in an inclusive environment tailored to their unique learning needs.
Filling a Niche – IIS’ beginnings
Thirteen years ago, Dr. Vanessa started Von Auer Psychology Center (www.vapc.sg), providing a wide range of psychological services to people of all ages – including children. As she conducted therapy sessions with children under the age of six, she realised that many of them experienced similar difficulties in their mainstream schools.
“These kids were asked to leave their mainstream schools,” Dr. Vanessa says. “The tragedy of being kicked out from school at such a young age, especially when all their friends are still there, can cause psychological and emotional pain and trauma.”
And while there are many special education schools in Singapore for locals to turn to, international students do not have as many options as their local counterparts. It was a niche that Dr. Vanessa, with her experience in child psychology, could fill if she opened her own international school. And so, she did.
“I started with a pilot programme to see if we could craft a specialised teaching approach for our students. We began with five students and three teachers, including myself, and organically grew to where we are today.”
How IIS Helps Their Students
To accommodate the various learning styles of their students, IIS optimises every facet of their programme to support a child’s learning process. This includes tailoring their activities, facilities and of course, the teaching itself towards this aim.
“Our teachers are required to have a lot of passion and patience. They need to understand these kids and adapt their teaching methodologies accordingly, which can be a challenge in regular, mainstream schools whose teachers may not have the training and expertise, or resources,” Dr. Vanessa notes. “We look for teachers who are loving, kind, creative and respectful human beings, which is necessary to foster a truly inclusive environment.”
IIS keeps their classes small and their teacher-to-student ratio high, usually in a ratio of one to five for Primary School, and one to six for Secondary School. This intimate class size allows the teachers to gain a greater familiarity with their students, helping them identify their strengths more quickly. “Once we have identified their unique strengths, we will work with the child, their family and the support team at school to strengthen them even further and utilise them to narrow their learning gaps.”
And unlike most conventional schools, which tend to favour academic strengths above other abilities, IIS empowers students whose talents lie in other areas. For instance, their creative arts curriculum allows students to familiarise themselves with art, music and drama, while the Topic of Inquiry curriculum delves into current affairs and cultural issues. “We hope to dispel traditional notions of success in school,” Dr. Vanessa says. “Some of our little artists can play a song on the piano just by listening to it once. We want to show that these successes can be just as important as how well you score for Maths or Science.”
The emotional and mental well- being of their students is of the utmost importance to IIS. Along with counselling services and behavioural therapy, the school set up various feature rooms and activities to help students with sensory or emotional regulation.
A charming example would be the Ocean Room, which is a multi- sensory Snoezelen room fitted with fibre lights, bubble tubes, interactive light panels, and aquatic-themed décor. Students who find themselves under or overstimulated can enter the Ocean Room to calm themselves down or take a break.
Overcoming the Mental Health Stigma
But beyond providing children with an inclusive learning environment to flourish, Dr. Vanessa hopes that her school goes a long way in reducing the stigma attached to mental health.
“I think there’s still a lot of stigma when it comes to diagnosing a child with special needs. The world is more accepting of it now than it was back when I started working as a Clinical Psychologist, but it’s still something we have to deal with and educate the public on,” she says.
As their students grow and redefine success in their own unique ways, IIS hopes that more parents will learn to accept their children for who they are.
“It is important to normalise these differences, because having them is part of what makes us human,” Dr. Vanessa says. “Let’s try our best to not stigmatise these labels. After all, that’s just what they are – labels.”