Educational Excellence and Traditional Values for Six Decades
Kentville Kindergarten opened its doors in October of 1966, with just seven students. In the nearly sixty years since, this school has made its journey together with Hong Kong. It has become one of the city’s highly respected and regarded private kindergartens. After three years there, its alumni have progressed to the city’s top primary schools and gone on to become great achievers in their respective fields, both locally and overseas. During those six decades, it has welcomed approximately 30,000 pupils through its doors.
A good school depends on excellent teachers. Kentville has provided a wonderful career platform for many of Hong Kong’s most talented and dedicated kindergarten teachers. Many have spent their entire career at the school, in many cases staying until retirement.
Founder, Supervisor & First Headmistress
Kentville Kindergarten was founded by Miss Wong. Born in Hong Kong, she moved with her family to Shanghai as a toddler in the late 1930s. With unrest and war brewing in China, the family did not stay long, returning to Hong Kong. Miss Wong attended St Mary’s Canossian College in Tsim Sha Tsui, where she completed her secondary school education. It was run by Italian nuns of the Roman Catholic Church.
The nuns were capable educators and St. Mary’s provided Miss Wong with a solid grounding and strong secondary education. Unfortunately, illness prevented her from taking up a place at Hong Kong University (HKU). She switched focus and enrolled in a teacher training course at The Grantham Training College in Hong Kong. The senior nun at St. Mary’s invited Miss Wong back to her old school to teach and she taught there for the next three years.
She enjoyed sciences very much and decided to pursue undergraduate studies in microbiology at the University of California at Los Angeles as her next step. She returned to Hong Kong with a U.S. degree but found job opportunities for graduates with American qualifications scarce. Eager to secure meaningful work, she sought alternatives. As a result of her family’s Shanghai wartime experiences, Miss Wong had a keen appreciation of the value of education. Her mother frequently reminded her: “Education is one thing that no one can take away from you.” Her experience as a teacher at St. Mary’s also led her to realize and appreciate her natural talent and aptitude for teaching.
In the 1960s, kindergartens in Hong Kong were few and far between. At the time, she lived in a large Kowloon Tong home with her family. The spacious home had a large garden. She spotted an opportunity to open a small school. With the support of her family, she opened a kindergarten. She threw herself into the project with her customary diligence and determination.
Aims & Name of School
In thinking of the aims and name for her school, she was reminded of the phrase根深葉茂 --‘strong “roots” lead to a strong tree’ and Chinese teaching 德才兼備 equally important are “morals” and accomplishments; but morals came first. So, she named her school “根德園.”
Miss Wong’s fundamental belief was that every child is a unique individual and possesses tremendous capacity to learn.
She aimed to give her students a happy learning environment and an all-round education, with equal emphasis on moral values and academics. All the students must be treated equally, with no favouritism.
After a year of research, she designed a comprehensive curriculum to cover the core values, attitudes and skills. Her students would learn Chinese, English, numbers, general knowledge, physical education, music and arts& crafts.
As founder, she designed everything herself – curriculum, teaching materials, teaching aids, student worksheets, homework books, parent communications, timetable, teacher training program and evaluation system, etc. Miss Wong believed that children who were happy learned best. “After our students leave, they go on to local primary schools. Our goal is to provide them with a good time, so that they are happy and learn at the same time,” she liked to say.
Religion was not covered in the curriculum. Miss Wong thought that was something best left to the parents.
1966 - Start of Kentville Kindergarten
When the school opened in 1966, it had seven students. They stayed for three hours each weekday morning. At that time, parents paid a monthly fee of HK$45 for the 10 months they attended each year. Today the monthly fee is HK$4,600. In the second year, 1967, the number of pupils grew to approximately 50. But that year the city was hit by serious social unrest and instability, which persuaded many families to leave Hong Kong. But Miss Wong was determined to succeed and kept the school open.
As a mother herself, Miss Wong well understood the nature of young children and excelled at curriculum design. She created a step-by-step programme appropriate for the ages of her young charges.
She understood that children of kindergarten age had a limited attention span; so the daily routine included a mixture of quiet and active learning experiences. Aware of children’s natural playfulness, she designed many classroom games to encourage kids to learn through fun classroom activities.
Miss Wong was always interested in the latest developments in early childhood education. She was an avid reader of foreign education journals and took every opportunity to visit schools abroad to gather new ideas. She regularly visited kindergarten in the U.S., Europe, Japan, Taiwan and mainland China. Each summer she travelled to the U.S. to see family members. Her itinerary on these trips always included visits to schools and school supply stores in search of new teaching aids and other materials.
She valued these trips: “What I learnt is that it is always good to understand new theories and best practices … I synthesized the best of what I learnt and adapted new ideas to the system in Hong Kong and applied them to my school.”
Miss Wong took her responsibilities seriously, and the parents responded. The number of applicants grew rapidly. She needed to expand the school; in 1979, Kentville added a second premise, twice the size of the original Kent Road school, at nearby Dorset Crescent. She moved K2 and K3 to the new building and retained K1 in Kent Road. But a bigger school presented new challenges. “Running a small school means fewer problems. Moving to a bigger site brought headaches,” she recalls.
In 1999, Miss Wong stepped down as headmistress. During her 32 years in charge, the school had grown from 7 pupils in 1966 to 1,800 in 1999. Kentville had become an established fixture on the local private kindergarten map. She handed the reins and the Headmistress post to her daughter, Miss Leung. Since then, Miss Leung has held the position, while Miss Wong has remained as school Supervisor.
Miss Leung had started her career in business. She switched to education in order to take over management of the school. Her own journey involved studying and working in Hong Kong and the US. She had educated her two young children in both local and international schools in Hong Kong, so she brought her own unique lens to Kentville.
She inherited a school that was already established, with a strong reputation for producing well-mannered and capable students, with an excellent academic foundation. She considered carefully the purpose of education. She studied different teaching, learning and parenting approaches and what truly helped children to gain self-esteem and self-confidence in order to become the best version of themselves.
Miss Leung thought a great deal of this question: “What kind of education would prepare our students for the future world? What kind of teaching and learning would help them become lifelong learners and contributors?
The 2000s were a different world to the 1960s. The greatest changes were globalization and the arrival of the Internet, personal computers and mobile telephones, and the widespread adoption of technology in all aspects of life. Miss Leung’s goal going forward is to expand the curriculum and incorporate more 21st century learning goals – communication, collaboration and creativity – for children of kindergarten age and make effective use of new technologies. And, at the same time, maintain Kentville’s traditional value. All this required a process of constant reflection, improvement and change.
“Kentville is blessed to have a passionate and creative team of teachers who care a lot about the success of students,” said Miss Leung. “Keeping the curriculum and teaching top notch is a top priority of the school. We are very proud of the improvements over the years and we know that, for the benefit of our students, it is critical to improve continuously.”
Every year since 2011, Kentville has done a large-scale theme-based learning project. Miss Leung explained: “Each year we brainstorm an important topic and, with the help of teachers and parents, students join in to take a deeper dive. Kentville has done 20 of these big-scale projects and they have been amazing learning events for the whole community.”
The topics have revolved about environmental issues, such as how to reduce, reuse and recycle, endangered animals, climate change, healthy diet and exercise habits and Chinese culture and heritage.
Another notable initiative in the curriculum is the “Friday Special Activities”. Every Friday is dedicated to a series of small group projects aimed at promoting collaboration, communication and creativity. For example, one Friday Activity is where students in group of 4 would write story lines, create cartoons by hand and then present it to their classmates. This allowed their creativity and collaboration skills to grow through sharing and shaping ideas with each other. The chance to present their cartoon helped them learn to speak in front of others with confidence.
“Every year, we are amazed at the children’s creativity and enthusiasm for project learning and how confident they are working with each other and sharing their own ideas,” said Miss Leung. “One year the topic was about reduction of single-use plastics. It was a deeply moving moment for me and the teachers to see how our young students really care about the planet and were able to explain what each of us can do to make a difference!”
Another top priority at Kentville is to help the parents be more involved in the education of their children.“We only have the child at school for 3 hours a day,” she said. “So, to build good habits and help each child flourish, school and parents have to work very closely together.”
The school added at-home learning resources and projects that involve parents, to give parents tools to continue in the home environment lessons learnt in the classroom. For example, Kentville wants to help the students develop a love of reading. The school invited a story-telling specialist to share with parents story-telling tips and sent home story books for parents to read with their children on a bi-weekly basis.
In another example, Kentville created a workbook for parents to work with the K2s to learn about themselves and their family. “In one part, we ask the parents to explain to the child the origin of their name,” Miss Leung said. “We hope to encourage conversations between parents and child that let them learn about their own family story and family values, and their hope and dreams for the child. We believe these are important conversations that strengthen the familial bond.”
Kentville always works hard to maintain timely communication with parents and keep them informed of the student’s learning progress.
In 2014, Kentville added an electronic school-wide platform which integrated and streamlined parent and teacher communication; it was supported by photos and videos of the school’s activities. The new platform allowed for more participation by parents; they were delighted to watch their child’s “show and tell”, “cartoon stories”, “English Drama”, “Mandarin Poems”, “mini musical” etc., while sitting in the comfort of home.
“Technology is developing so rapidly,” said Miss Leung. “We are always looking for ways to incorporate the new technologies to upgrade all aspects of school life, including teaching and learning, communication with the parents, sharing student progress at school and day-to-day operations.”
Another priority for Kentville has been supporting teacher development to improve the quality of teaching.
Miss Leung introduced comprehensive changes to the management structure of the school. It moved from a top-down approach to one that shared more authority. In the process, Kentville actively developed a middle-tier leadership team which has greatly improved management at every level and increased support for junior teachers. It created time for senior teachers to mentor younger colleagues, coaching them to identify and support students with specific learning needs.
Kentville also supported teachers to further their education, by covering part of the tuition fees for 35 teachers to study for their Bachelor of Education. This allowed teachers to keep up to date and learn the best practices in their field.
Challenges, Growth Mindset & “I CAN DO IT” Attitude
The most difficult years of Miss Leung’s stewardship were the Covid outbreak that started in 2020. “Even kindergarten teaching had to go online rapidly,” she said. “We had to learn suddenly how to deliver education online to our very young learners. Fortunately, all the curriculum and technological changes of the past decade allowed us to adapt smoothly. The teachers rallied round. They were ready to be flexible and think out of the box. It took a concerted effort by all the teachers working together to keep delivering the level of education Kentville’s students needed.”
The last six decades have taught us that change is inevitable, and one must be resilient and resourceful to continue to thrive. A growth mindset, positive attitude and a strong belief that “I can do it” sums up the empowering philosophy of Kentville.
Through all these rapid and unpredictable changes, Kentville has never lost sight of its mission – to be a modern school that cherishes its traditional values.
“Our goal remains that our graduates will be self-motivated learners with a positive attitude. Through the collective efforts of school, teachers, and parents, we can guide each child to become the best versions of themselves, and ultimately become responsible and thoughtful young citizens of the world. Children are the world’s future and hope, and it is our privilege and honour as teachers to be able to help them grow & flourish!” says Miss Leung.