To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB), we speak with two long-term veterans to find out what the school was like back in the day. We talk to 20-year employee Greg MacIsaac, or as the kids like to call him, Mr. Mac and Rob Korfage, a 15-year WAB veteran and learning support teacher.
How has WAB changed over the years? What has stayed the same?
MacIsaac: We started as a small school only offering kindergarten through Grade 6 with only 146 students and now have an enrollment of over 1,400 students from nursery to Grade 12. We also started with the International Schools Curriculum Project (ISCP) as our base curriculum, which was bought out by the International Baccalaureate (IB). WAB’s community school spirit and family atmosphere has stayed the same. The pioneering spirit is still here, it just has to be dusted off from time to time!
Korfage: The “old” WAB had a very cozy yet experimental feel. Every teacher knew every student and vice versa. Problems were solved as a team. We took care of each other. I think we all realized we were on a journey, one of which we could not see the end, but we set a strict course, and developed a common understanding. It was an adventure discovering and exploring Primary Year’s Programme (PYP), dreaming about the best possible education, challenging each other and finding each others’ qualities. We spent many nights and weekends having fun and at the same time talking school.
Obviously we have grown in numbers and buildings since then. However, we seem to have maintained the original feeling of the school as best as we could. Nowhere do you feel you are in a massive school, there are places to relax and withdraw. Most importantly, we try our best to keep that small-scale feeling from 20 years ago in our teaching.
What made you stay all this time?
MacIsaac: I began as a grade level teacher, however, I’ve held many posts of responsibilities through out my tenure. When a skill set was recognized as being beneficial, I changed directions professionally and eventually became the video coordinator. WAB entertains teachers’ initiatives, so I’ve been able to grow personally and professionally.
Korfage: I came in 1998, four years after the school opened and left in 2005, after restarting the Dutch language program. I returned in 2007, first as a substitute teacher. It was fantastic – I taught many classes, from the early childhood unit to the high school, and it was like walking into a kitchen and discovering new recipes. I learned so much from my (absent) co-teachers, just by how they had organized their classrooms. Two years flew by. I was then offered another contract in learning support.
Highlight the moment you fell in love with the school.
MacIsaac: After the first year, I showed a highlight video of the academic year 1994-1995 to the students and staff. While they were watching the video, I was watching them laughing, pointing, and thoroughly enjoying the reminiscing. I knew then that I love this school. When I signed on for my first year in 1994, I never thought that I would be looking back at 20 years. But one thing is for sure, I’m glad I did!
Korfage: John McBryde, the visionary director who built the current WAB, is an extraordinary man. I walked into his office one day, as head of the languages department, asking for five minutes. When I explained my issue, he said, “Do you have a solution?” When I told him my solution. He said, “Give me 24 hours.” He came back within 24 hours, sanctioning my idea. That was when I knew I loved this school. Not because he liked my solution, but that he asked for it, and took time to think it through. John is the best chief I’ve ever worked for. And I learn every single day, and I am 54. This will sound corny, but it is true, it’s great to be part of an ongoing journey.
Photo: Courtesy of WAB