It was eight years ago that Simon Clark, recently arrived at Berkeley’s Shu Ren International School as assistant head of school, had an epiphany about himself and about teaching.
“I remember my first week in the classroom being taken aback by how engaged, active and enthusiastic the students were,” he said. “After moving from teaching in the public-school systems in the UK and U.S., it was clear how the school’s International Baccalaureate curriculum valued more than just learning: it focused on educating the whole child through the teaching of an additional language, social and emotional support, critical thinking skills and self-reflection. After my first year of teaching in the IB program I noticed more than a change in my teaching: I was striving to embody the school’s mission statement by myself becoming an active and compassionate lifelong learner. Shortly after arriving there I swore I would never teach in a ‘traditional’ school again.”
Shu Ren International School is an independent, co-educational Mandarin-English immersion day school that was established in Berkeley in 2008. It has two campuses for students in Pre-K through 8th grade, and offers an education centered on an inquiry-based, trans-disciplinary curriculum framework – the International Baccalaureate program.
Diversity and multiculturalism are at the beginning and the end of everything that happens at Shu Ren International School, from its mission all the way through to its students’ parents. The school aims to learn from the very communities it seeks to serve and its belief in, and dedication to, the principles of the IB curriculum, shine through its community’s hard work. Newsweek recognized the school in their article titled “The Best IB Accredited Schools in the USA”.
Eva Imbsweiler, who teaches first and second grade at Shu Ren, was exposed to language immersion and the IB curriculum from a young age.
“I enrolled in Atlanta International School at the age of four having moved from my hometown of Hamburg, Germany,” she says. “My parents considered preserving bilingualism to be a priority in the education of my brother and me.”
Imbsweiler cites the IB curriculum as being the main inspiration in her teaching career at Shu Ren. As a student of English and German languages, Imbsweiler has a clear vision of how language immersion benefits individuals.
“Language opens doors by changing the experience of traveling to other places and of communicating with visitors to your country,” she says. “Languages allow us to think and express ourselves in different ways. International education fosters open-mindedness. It offers the chance for people to tell a story that is unknown to others”.
Clark, who before joining Shu Ren, taught for 11 years all over the world, including in Switzerland, the UK, Mexico and North Carolina, agrees with Imbsweiler and said the Berkeley school was the best fit for him to continue exploring the world through travel and education. “To offer the IB Primary Years Program through a Mandarin immersion model is a wonderful and rare thing. Only a small number of schools in the United States offer something similar, and there is something incredibly exciting and rewarding about being a pioneer for such a worthy educational cause.”
All children benefit from a bilingual education
Shu Ren was the brainchild of Dr. Jie Moore, a native of Beijing, China.
“The idea to start Shu Ren was very personal,” she says. “I was desperately looking for a Mandarin immersion school for our daughter who was four years old at that time. We have an international family: I’m from China and my husband is from New Zealand. Our daughter Maya was born in the US. But even before she was born, Tony and I had decided that we would do everything we could to help her become bilingual in Chinese and English. I have parents and sisters in China and I wanted Maya to be able to communicate with them in Chinese. I also want her to know about her cultural heritage, which I know can benefit her in many different ways. I have come to firmly believe that most children should have a bilingual education if they have the opportunity because it greatly enriches their lives.”
Shu Ren’s student families also contribute to the school’s wonderful international melting pot. After living in China for eight years, Julie Wu and her family were looking to continue their daughter’s high level of education while encouraging bilingual growth in the East Bay.
“Continuing their Mandarin language skills was certainly a priority. However, the most important criteria was to find a school that nurtured their curiosity and enthusiasm for learning, while also challenging them to stretch their thinking,” she says. “My kids had attended an IB World School in Shanghai, where I first discovered this brilliant curriculum. So when I learned that Shu Ren was not only a Mandarin-immersion school, but also an IB World School, our search was done.”
Wu adds that their repatriation process was stressful and the warmth and welcome the family received from Shu Ren and its community was the greatest support during that transitional period.
“Both my kids immediately felt confident and at ease in the classroom with the familiar vocabulary of the IB curriculum,” she says. “Also, many of the families had worked, studied, or lived in Asia, and thus shared some common experiences with us. While we are now nicely settled into our new lives, it remains a comfort to stay connected with families of international backgrounds, all striving for our children to grow into inquisitive, confident, multilingual citizens of the world.”
Judging kids by test scores has taken a back seat
Aurangzeb Agha, the father of two students in Shu Ren’s Primary Years Programme, was also attracted to the school for its rare Mandarin immersion program. But the Aghas (pictured in their car, top) found even more reasons to stay and be a part of this vibrant community once they had enrolled.
“We came to Shu Ren for the Chinese immersion, and, while we love it, we stay because of the IB education, the attention our children get in their manageable classes, and the broader community of helping and caring parents,” he says. “Shu Ren has changed the way we, as parents, think about education. Our philosophy of comparing children to others or judging them by test scores has taken a back seat to the idea of immersive and continuous learning. Through the amazing IB education our two children receive at Shu Ren, they literally think (and act!) differently from their peers in public schools; they ask questions that ‘blow our minds’, and we have conversations on topics that I think other parents probably only have with their children who are a few years older.”