How Our New Eagles Learn To Soar


Embarking on a new school journey is an exciting time for any child. Among all the thrilling emotions, it’s natural for nervousness and confusion to creep in. Apart from students transferring from private and international schools within Shanghai, there are also those who fly across the globe to attend school in a foreign country for the first time. From making new friends to getting used to different school subjects, it can be a little overwhelming.

At Shanghai American School, it’s all hands on deck to ensure our newbie students feel right at home, seamlessly blending into the new Eagle way of life. Wondering how we do this, especially during the vulnerable middle and high school years? First, let’s go back to basics and define what it means to be benefitting from an American education at SAS.


An Empowering Eagle Education

We empower our students through choice. The high school has 133 courses that students can choose from. In addition, there are also clubs, athletics, and after-school activities. What’s more is that we’re the only school in Shanghai that offers both the full International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) and a very robust set of Advanced Placement (AP) courses. We value individuality, and therefore encourage our high schoolers to choose their educational pathway. This provides them with opportunities to specialize in a particular area, like the Sciences, or work towards meeting the specific requirements of the university they wish to attend.

Minji ’23, who transitioned to SAS when she was a middle schooler, said even in Grade 8 there were so many activities she could choose from, referencing Exploratory, a program that sparks student interest and curiosity by exposing them to activities they wouldn’t normally have encountered. “That freedom multiplied in high school. The biggest decision for me was whether I should do IB or AP, but I’m glad I at least had that option.”

Many other education systems focus on learning volumes of information. However, at SAS we emphasize the process of learning. This means that students are taught information but more importantly, many skills to process that information. Students expect tests and exams will demonstrate their learning. But at SAS, what you do in class also matters. Our students do a variety of projects, group work, performances and presentations that demonstrate their learning, and their general success is determined by their Grade Point Average (GPA). Active participation in class discussions is also vital. This approach contributes to the critical thinking skills that teachers and counselors work hard to develop in each student.

“Students coming from exam-focused curricula must understand that doing well on a test means you still have to do well in class and be active in discussions,” said SAS Pudong High School Principal Dr. Benjamin Lee.


Wind Beneath Your Wings

It’s not only about academics. Student wellness is crucial.

“It's normal for students to feel emotions related to grief when they leave behind an old school for a new one. Our goal is to help students feel safe and supported throughout their transitions so they can be their best selves,” said SAS Pudong social-emotional counselor Stephanie Finnell.

SAS school counselors help students acknowledge and deal with the many emotions they may experience.

Counselors consistently meet with and get to know all new students, whether it is during new student orientation or in the middle of the year. The comprehensive support system starts with an advisor that they see regularly either during their advisory or homebase class who they build a close relationship with and who monitors their academic performance and social-emotional wellbeing. The new students are also assigned a partner in the “buddy system” who ensures they are not eating their lunch alone, they are making friends and finding their way around with ease.

In addition to social-emotional counselors in every grade level, students are also assigned a college counselor when they start Grade 10, who guides them in choosing the right path beyond high school. We have the most college counselors per student across all international schools in Asia.

Aaron ’25 said switched schools three times before SAS, but the move to SAS was the easiest transition both socially and academically. “I came from a big private school where there wasn’t much support from the teachers. But here at SAS you are able to connect with your teachers and counselors and even the principal. Another great thing is that the college counseling is individualized towards you.”

Changing schools can be a significant life event, but with SAS teachers and counselors fully on board, all new – and existing – students are guaranteed to thrive.

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