International Academic Excellence
by Miki Noguchi
Closing in on the 50th anniversary of the foundation of its Montessori kindergarten program, Seisen International School in Setagaya-ku offers academic excellence and community support along with a competitive and rigorous International Baccalaureate (IB) core program.
The school has grown since its first Montessori kindergarten class of four students in 1949 to its now approximately 725 K-12 students. The coeducational kindergarten school embraces the inquiry-based teaching approach central to the Montessori philosophy, which allows for and recognizes differences in learning styles and pace, as well as comingles age groups, so that children between three and five are all mixed in classes together. This gives older children an opportunity to learn how to look after themselves and others, and younger children a chance to learn to socialize. In addition, the Montessori program prepares the children for first grade in the elementary school’s Primary Years Program (PYP). In turn, the PYP prepares students for the highly challenging and internationally competitive IB program, which offers college credit for certain courses that can be applied to a student’s course credit count at university. Of the first to twelfth grade teachers, about sixty percent have a master’s degree or higher, an invaluable resource for helping to prepare students for university. All the kindergarten teachers are certified in the Montessori program.
Represented by 55 different countries, Seisen’s student body creates an environment ripe with opportunity to meet children of various backgrounds from around the world. About fifteen percent of the student population is made up of Japanese children who have previously attended school in English or lived abroad, while eighty-five percent, the overwhelming majority, are non-Japanese. In fact, thirty-five percent of the students come from families with one Japanese and one non-Japanese parent. To further foster the awareness of various global cultures, every April the elementary school hosts an International Day where everyone is encouraged to wear clothes typical of their home countries, sing songs, and showcase dances from different countries. The kindergarten incorporates singing songs in various languages to celebrate the diversity of their classroom. Every October, the elementary school also honors U.N. Day.
“In fact, thirty-five percent of the students
come from families with one Japanese and
one non-Japanese parent.”
While appreciating the representation of many different countries is an important part of the learning, so is recognizing the country in which the children live. Japanese language classes are required for grades 1-6, with the option for them to continue in junior high and high school. Once students reach junior high, they also have the option of choosing to study French or Spanish. In addition, from the first grade on, in accordance with the school’s Catholic affiliation, the curriculum includes a religious course; however, students may choose a Catholic, Christian, or multi-faith class, described as a sort of ethics course. The most popular choice is currently Christian, followed by multi-faith, and then Catholic. Given the range of instruction available, children of all spiritual backgrounds are able to integrate easily into the diverse student body.
In the after-school hours, working and stay-at-home parents alike often worry that their children are not getting enough intellectual stimulation or physical exercise. So, to fill this gap in the system, Seisen has established a series of extra-curricular and sporting activities depending on the grade level and interest of the student. For kindergarten-aged children, ballet is offered. For elementary school age children, there are classroom cooking, sewing, board-games, music, and sports. For the older kids, there are some more challenging activities such as, “vocal and instrumental groups, Model United Nations, Habitat for Humanity, service groups, outdoor games, and various teams and individual sports.”
Beyond the everyday activities available to the students are various day- and week-long trips that are very popular. Seisen Kindergarten’s annual visit to a local petting zoo and the Children’s Castle are always highly anticipated, as is the sweet potato picking field trip—a common outing for Japanese kindergarteners. From the sixth grade on, students are offered a range of different trips every year, varying from two days in Nikko, to a four or five day visit to Hiroshima or a week-long skiing trip. All of these are features that are offered in addition to Seisen’s already rich and full daily curriculum.
One feature of Seisen that parents may ultimately find helpful for themselves and their children is the Seisen Parents Association, which acts as a welcome wagon and new arrival support network for families who have just arrived with their children in Tokyo. The group is an independently organized group separate from the school but they contact families new to the school to help them get oriented. The group hosts several functions throughout the school year to introduce new Seisen parents to other parents at the school—including the morning coffee get-togethers and a weekday hanami together while the children are in school. Another popular event is the principal’s, luncheon, at the beginning of the year, which gives parents a chance to meet each other as well as the school’s top administrator. The Parents Association also hosts fundraising activities such as bingo night and the school’s festival in October.
While there are a range of international schools available in Tokyo, Seisen International School offers an option for each level of schooling for girls as well as an adaptive Montessori kindergarten for boys and girls. The strong academics and IB program helps students in families who are planning to leave Japan some day, or who had been outside Japan previously, maintain a continuity in education format while also supporting the students and their families alike at all school levels.
For more information on Seisen International School see www.seisen.com or call 03-3704-2661.