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Fairies, balloons, buddies to quell P1 kids' first-day jitters

Mohd Nuraz Danial (left) and Muhammad Shaelfiee Abu Kasim, who dropped out of school, are ready to get back to their studies after attending an outreach intiative for at-risk boys known as Beacon of Life
The Straits Times - January 2, 2014
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Fairies, balloons, buddies to quell P1 kids' first-day jitters

Pupils starting at West Spring Primary will be greeted by balloons and teachers dressed as fairies when it opens its doors for the first time this morning.

The Bukit Panjang school is one of three new primary schools welcoming their first batch of pupils today. The other two schools are Alexandra Primary in Bukit Merah and Northoaks Primary in Sembawang.

West Spring principal Jacinta Lim told The Straits Times she wanted to ease the anxiety of the 210 youngsters starting Primary 1.

"When the kids see the colourful balloons and fairies it distracts them from that anxious moment," she said. Such special first-day activities are a tradition she carried over to the new school from her former one, Yangzheng Primary.

"For the kids, transitioning to primary school can be overwhelming," she said. "The setting is very different, the school is bigger and they have to start buying their own food."

The school has also set up a partnership with nearby Zhenghua Secondary which will involve the older students acting as buddies to the younger ones. They will guide the West Spring pupils during recess time and teach them how to order and pay for food.

Northoaks Primary, meanwhile, will offer breakfast to pupils and parents to usher in the new school year today. Its principal, Ms Theresa Hong, said: "We just want to welcome them to a brand new school."

Parents will spend 45 minutes eating with their young ones before the first cohort of over 160 pupils is taken to the school hall for the flag-raising ceremony.

They are among 40,000 Primary 1 pupils beginning their formal education at 190 primary schools.

Today also marks a fresh start for two 16-year-old boys, Mohd Nuraz Danial and Muhammad Shaelfiee Abu Kasim, who dropped out of their schools after mixing with bad company and losing interest in their studies.

In 2011, Shaelfiee left Fuhua Secondary while in Secondary 2 Normal (Technical). "I slept during every mathematics lesson because it was so boring and I found my teacher irritating," said the youngest of four children. "Once I flipped over my table in front of the teacher because she asked me to greet her after she walked into the classroom."

For Danial, a combination of bad peer influence and family problems caused the Normal (Technical) student to leave Hong Kah Secondary in 2012 when he was in Sec 3. "I was slacking and doing things like stealing from shops and scolding vulgarities at strangers," said the only child.

Both boys' parents went through divorces when they were in kindergarten. But things changed last year after they met former prison inmates Kim Whye Kee and Darren Tan through an outreach intiative for at-risk boys known as Beacon of Life.

Inspired by the stories of Mr Kim and Mr Tan, now a product designer and lawyer respectively, both became determined to return to school this year.

"They led me back to the right path," said Shaelfiee, who hopes to be an architect or an artist.

Danial, who wants to be a mechanic, said: "There's no point doing all those stupid things any more. We're growing up and must be more mature."

Shaelfiee's mother, Madam Yani Suriani, 43, said: "I was very disappointed when he left school but in the last year, after joining the group of boys, he changed a lot and I'm very happy. His going back to school is a bonus."



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