The NLS Family

NorthLight is more than just a school. It is like a family. Many students come from dysfunctional families so they look to their teachers for guidance and support. The teachers do much more than just teach. They spend half their time as social workers, visiting the students at their homes and bringing them to see the doctors etc. Through thick and thin, the students and teachers celebrate moments of achievement as well as go through difficult times together.

The NLS Staff

Having been to several schools, it is quite clear that we have some of the most committed and dedicated officers in NorthLight. They joined the school with their eyes open and knew that they are here on a special mission. That is to give hope to the students. They are aware of the students’ profile and want to do something to uplift their lives. They hope to help these students succeed. They believe in the starfish story and aim to help one child at a time.

There are a few groups of officers who play different roles but serve the same purpose. Not surprisingly, the first group that comes to mind are the teachers. We now have the second generation of NorthLight teachers. Many of the pioneer teachers have moved on, either back to MOE schools or other institutes. These teachers have learnt the ropes fast and adapted to the type of work in NLS swiftly. Unlike the pioneer teachers, they may not have as good an understanding of the mission of the school and rationale of certain processes but they bring with them a big heart for the students.

The teachers are an incredible group of people. Faced with a unique group of students in our system, they see it as an opportunity to instil hope and confidence. They choose to see the strengths and talents of these students and help them find their interests and passion on a daily basis. At the same time, they help them grow and overcome some of their challenges and weaknesses. The key is that they never give up on the students. Leading and working alongside these teachers have been nothing short of inspiring. Despite numerous home visits to check on students who are absent, they continue to find ways to engage the families and students. Many students were successfully brought back to school through these unwavering efforts.

Besides helping students improve in literacy, numeracy, ICT and vocational skills, the teachers create many opportunities for students to build resilience and character. Through a vibrant CCA programme, teachers generate interest amongst the students by planning interesting sessions, participating in competitions and embarking on overseas trips. Many students shine on these platforms and showcase their skills and abilities, sometimes outshining their peers from other secondary schools. Over the past few years, many CCA groups have grown from strength to strength. The key factor has been the teachers’ willingness to change the CCA structure and carry out CCA in the morning instead of having it after school. It is clear that the teachers are open to any changes that brings about a better learning environment.

Another important group supporting the teachers strongly are the team of psychologist, counsellors and allied educators. Given that a rising number of students have some form of special needs, these group of officers support the students in managing their learning and behavioural issues. Observing them closely, it is not difficult to see that their patience and professionalism is second to none. This support is most critical during the most challenging of times such as when the students have serious personal or family crisis. The staff are there with the students to give them and the family members all the support they need. When the students return to school, the staff continue to ensure that the students are emotionally stable and able to learn again. The work of this group is crucial.

Working tirelessly in the background is a team of executive and administrative staff. Whether it is in student affairs, office admin, human resource, finance or operations and IT support, all the officers know that their role is just as important as that of the teachers. It is not uncommon to see the staff heading to the classrooms to help students complete their financial assistance application or working on various locations in the school to ensure that the facilities are working well. Their work in human resource and finance help ensure that the school uses its resources strategically and efficiently.

The NLS Students

While the challenges faced by the students are often talked about, many of their achievements and strengths receive a lot less attention. Time and time again, the students, in their time at NorthLight, have proven that they will rise to the occasion. With some guidance and coaching, they can achieve much. In many cases, they just need some help to focus on what they need to do.  What they also need are teachers who believe in them.

My personal experience of coaching the C division junior soccer team confirmed my belief that the boys were as good as any team of their age-group. It was great time spent with the boys as I got to know them at an early stage of their time in the school. The training sessions and matches were a great platform to instil discipline and teamwork. There were many teachable moments such as when the boys won a crucial game that enabled them to qualify for the next round of the competition. I sat them down immediately after the game and highlighted to them what success felt like. I also pointed to their sense of determination and focus that brought about the excellent result. The boys had never been more attentive.

The dance CCA group is the pride of the school. Started out as a traditional dance group, they have evolved into a versatile dance group that never ceases to amaze me whenever they take to the stage. Sometimes the interval between performances is just a week but they are already doing a new dance and movement. The girls showed their talent and ability each time they performed and it was clearly evident that they had spent much time practising. They received many invitations to perform at community and corporate events. The icing on the cake was their performance at the Singapore Youth Festival.

Against all odds, many students have proven that they are academically capable of doing well. Each year, we see many graduating students applying to ITE and I have seen many who would make any parent proud. The students shared with me stories of broken families where they had to depend on the school and teachers for guidance and support. The desire to lead a better life and make their parents proud pushed many to work hard and not give up. Another group of students whom I am very proud of are the students who joined the NorthLight Academy. The two years spent in the work-study programme built their confidence and enabled them to transit to work smoothly. Essentially, it represented a new pathway for the students.

I always share with visitors that the students with the best attitude and attendance rate are the students with learning needs. Despite some learning difficulties, I find these students to be the ones who are most respectful and keen to learn. On a daily basis and for external school events like Sports Day, they register the best attendance rate. Their participation rate is also good and they never hesitate to try even if a few may have some physical disability. In fact, as part of the Hospitality programme, they work and serve in the school café and I always enjoy having lunch there because their service and effort is fantastic. NorthLight is one of the best examples of inclusive education.

An outstanding group of students have been those who have done kind deeds in public to help the community. Highlighted by members of the public through email or other channel, we have had students who saved a young child’s life, helped taxi-driver change tyres, given up seat in MRT for pregnant lady or helped the elderly cross the road. On an ongoing basis, the school gives out SHINE badges to students who have performed kind deeds in school and in public. This effort is very much part of the school’s emphasis on character education and instilling good values in the students as a foundation for a purposeful life.

The NLS Partners  

Having been with NorthLight for seven years, I am very heartened by the strong support from individuals and corporates for the mission of the school.  Beginning with the Board chairman and members who are passionate about the school and who are full of ideas about how to better support students and enhance their learning experience. Several corporates such as Shell, Deloitte and Changi Airport Group have stepped forward in a big way to provide resources and opportunities for the students’ holistic development. Individuals who believe in the work of the school have also made a difference by volunteering their time as numeracy coaches and providing additional resources. A host of industry partners have made the Industrial Experiential Programme possible by providing work attachment opportunities. A few such as HomeFix, NTUC and Metro have even helped to set up authentic workshop facilities in the school. Taken together, the support from the community have helped to give the students an educational experience that prepares them for the future.

 The Journey Continues

It is a privilege and honour for an educator to be part of the NorthLight family. As a key part of the Singapore education system, the work here is highly regarded locally and regionally. It is inspiring to be working alongside a group of highly-driven staff who believes in the mission and will go the extra mile to help the students. In turn, when we witness the transformation of the students into motivated and resilient youths ready to seize opportunities in life, it is deeply satisfying.

Into its 12th year, the journey continues for the school as it scans the environment and looks for opportunities to better support the students. The school is ready for change so that it remains relevant in its mission of giving hope and preparing its students for lifelong learning and employability.


Martin Tan