Ties that bind

SMK Green Road’s “affair” with The Star started over nine years ago. Some former students, who were then working, were keen to do their bit for their alma mater and decided to donate 40 copies of The Star to encourage the reading habit among its students.

It was in early 2001, and my responsibility then was to distribute them to other language teachers on behalf of the school’s language department head (Panitia). They were to be used for the teaching and learning of English in an interactive and fun way.

Having gone to a Star-NiE (Newspaper-in-Education) workshop earlier that year, I found that newspapers were an easy tool to use with active, communicative learners. It was easy to keep them interested as they could cut out pictures from the newspaper and identify words to describe themselves, which was a perfect way of improving their vocabulary.

With my older students, I would often use articles from the Focus, Education, Parenting and Living pages. I would also select from articles written to the editors and opinions from columnists.

These articles were informative, interesting and suited to the syllabus or the theme of the week (sometimes I would adopt the newspaper’s theme in my weekly plan).

Many Lower Six students then and now do not keep abreast with current issues, and using the newspaper is akin to welcoming them to the real world!

An article that was relevant then was entitled Congratulations! You fit the Bill, which discussed the expectations of prospective employers.

It was illuminating for the sixth-formers, as it touched on soft skills, emotional intelligence and communicative skills that fresh graduates needed to acquire in order to compete in the job market.

That article became a text for arguments about the type of skills that were most important and useful in the workplace during an oral presentation.

Many of the students had encountered new words for the first time, and abstract nouns such as ‘emotional intelligence’, ‘diligence’ and ‘perseverance’ were extremely hard to understand, let alone express and discuss.

So, the teacher had to parse them into different forms, give examples and keep using them in different contexts until students were familiar with the different parts of speech.

There were also articles on leadership, management skills and lifelong learning, which were so invaluable that some of my students kept them as reference for use when they were at university.

My ex-student Ho Chia Mei, now a second-year undergraduate, came back especially to thank me for giving her some of these texts which she found very useful and which she now shares with her friends who sit for MUET (Malaysian University English Test).

When I reminisce over the stories of some of these grateful students, I feel the appreciation should also go to The Star.

The newspaper contains articles that are so diverse that they cut across curricula. Language teachers can always get an issue with suitable texts for their teaching.

There were also eye-opening articles like Forces of Attraction and The Brains in Love which are important to mothers like me, and I seriously think that ideas and thoughts generated from such articles should be conveyed to my children too.

With the skyrocketing divorce rate today, it is best to ensure that young adults, especially young men, are aware that when they fall in love for the first time, they must not rush things as it is their mid-brain that has tricked them into believing that everything about their prospective spouse is right and wonderful, only to realise that they were only seduced by their own desires.

There are also touching stories from Heart and Soul as well as Dear Thelma, which deal with emotional issues that are very close to the hearts of young adults.

Relationship hiccups, the stress of examinations, and social issues — including many problematic and awkward questions — could be brought up indiscreetly through these reading texts.

All too often, in the middle of a reading class, students would share their own stories, which was good for them as the articles were a source of information and revelation. Sometimes, the article even answered many of their questions.

In 2008, SMK Green Road won the grand prize for the C4R (Campaign for Rewards) competition in the upper secondary category. The school’s team (Greenian V) and I, being their teacher coordinator, had a fantastic time at Disneyland.

Memories of the spectacular show The Lion King, and the unforgettable boat ride in Adventureland where surprises sprung at every turn (made even more enjoyable by a very talented tour guide-cum-commentator) are still vivid in my mind.

We also won five merit prizes then. This marked an important chapter in our “affair” with The Star.

Suddenly we felt that we were in the same league as the schools in Peninsular Malaysia at the competition.

While previously, we joined just to savour the pizzas, we are now confident and prepared to face the challenges ahead and win more prizes at more competitions.

Unlike the previous year, the Mag Inc 2009 competition was more challenging, with emphasis on computer literacy, research, planning and writing — by no means an easy task for many students.

Furthermore, there were many activities such as camping, competitions and workshops during the holidays that made demands on the schedule of students, who as always did things at the last minute.

Repeated calls to hand in their work early to be proofread and edited fell on deaf ears.

Considering the circumstances, it was an amazing feat that the school won five merit prizes.

As with all competitions, there must be winners and losers. If we can’t win this time, we must strive harder the next time around.

I wish to thank the ex-greenians for donating the newspaper and hope that students will continue their reading habit. The Star has a special place in our hearts.

The writer was the teacher coordinator of Mag Inc 2009 at SMK Green Road, Kuching, Sarawak.

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