Jia Hui Liu, Head Girl at Jerudong International School, is a busy teenager. She’s on the senior school council to improve the campus environment, listen to grievances, run events, and introduce new projects. When she’s not in school, she’s with the charity Community for Brunei, hosting bake sales to raise funds and revamp old buildings in a historic settlement in Bandar Seri Begawan’s Kampong Ayer.
Her favourite activity, however, is when she gets to bring her passion for art and philanthropy together. For the past three years, Liu has been teaching children to paint at a local art school. “These experiences have definitely shaped me into a more empathetic, compassionate and patient person,” she says.
Liu’s full days belie the fact that she’s still relatively new to JIS. When she joined the British International School last year, she had doubts whether she would be able to feel welcome and fit in. She did not know anyone, not even where the lockers were.
Her fears, though understandable, turned out to be vastly unfounded. “Everyone here is so welcoming and friendly,” she says. On her first day, other girls from her tutorial approached her and brought her to her classrooms to ensure she didn’t get lost on campus. “Everyone spoke to me as if I was already their friend. The teachers, especially my tutor and Housemaster, would often check in on me and make sure that I was settling in well,” she adds.
Starting at a new school — and sometimes, a new country — can be tough on students, but not at JIS. Liu’s experience is typical of the first week at JIS for new students: positive, welcoming and with support from peers, teachers and staff.
Adapting to a different culture, customs and languages can be challenging for young people. Hence when JIS welcomes new students, they take the extra step to know their backgrounds well, according to JIS counsellor Alyssa Cowell. Whether they are Bruneians from local schools who are not used to the expectations and norms of an international school, or students for whom English is not their first language, the well-established and well-resourced school endeavours to make it as seamless a transition as possible.
At JIS, the induction of new students focuses on turning “one big step into many little steps.” Pastoral Director Richard Bourbon says, “This commences during the interview process where students discuss their talents, hobbies, subjects they enjoy and find challenging, feelings about moving to Brunei and JIS, what they are most looking forward to and any worries they may feel,” he says. During a meeting with incoming students, the pastoral team is on hand to answer as many questions as possible about JIS and Brunei, such as “Will I make friends” or “Will I get lost?”
The pastoral team then sets to respond to these questions in several ways. The WEB (Where Everyone Belongs) group, led by the student council and counselling team, makes sure new members of the JIS community get a warm welcome, especially during their first few days. They also help them find their way around campus and to show them where they can access support.
This support extends even to students making the transition from Year 6 to Senior School. Bourbon explains: “Year 6 students talk about their hopes and fears about moving to the Senior School, meet their House Leaders; the central people in the lives of all Senior School students, take part in orientation activities in the school, learn to read the Senior School timetable (it is quite like the Year 6 timetable, which helps) and most importantly learn how to tie a tie!”
Boarders and their parents aren’t left out either. According to Bourbon, there are specialised teams that build positive relationships with parents, conduct boarding tours, and organise sleepover visits for interested applicants. Communication is a priority here, which is why the pastoral team always encourages parents to ask their children, “What was the highlight of your day?” to help discover what is going well and where their child might need some more help.
The significance of community at JIS has far-reaching benefits beyond the induction of new students. It ties in with the school’s emphasis on wellbeing and its holistic approach to education. Each JIS student is encouraged to reach six key aims: engagement, leadership, communication, thinking, resilience and integration. For every achievement aligned with any one of these aims, they are awarded a Polio Point — when they earn a point for each aim, JIS donates US$1 to UNICEF to help in the global fight against polio eradication.
This year, the school’s theme is “Togetherness and Community”. To achieve this aim, the senior school council will be organising inter-school workshops and debates as well as working together with local charities and businesses. Liu says, “The word ‘community’ holds great significance to all of us here at JIS … From formal school events to casual year group socials, the purpose of every event we organise is to bring our JIS community as positive and close together as possible.”