Chiang Mai’s international schools have faced numerous challenges due to this current pandemic and while all have opened up again for the new school year, it has, and continues to be, a hard time for schools which rely on international travel – teachers, parents and students. Then there are the health and safety standards to implement and maintain, and that’s not even touching on the economic hardship that is felt across the board.
One school, however, that seems to have not only sailed through the crisis, but thrived from the obstacles which emerged, is Varee International School.
The school’s 300 students from all over the world as well as its team of 50 qualified teachers all experts in their various fields, returned to a nearly unrecognisable school. Over the many months that the school was closed, its eponymous founder and managing director Varee Patravanich invested and made vast improvements to the school with an 11 million baht investment, turning it into, arguably, the school with the most modern facilities in Chiang Mai. To paraphrase Michelle Obama, when others went tight, she went large.
“I decided to turn Covid into a golden opportunity,” said Varee as she took us on a tour of her school recently. “It offered us an opportunity to develop, to evaluate and adjust, to have a clean slate from which to make vast changes and improvements. We enrolled teachers working from home onto online courses in various fields so that they too could learn and improve. We created an effective online platform for our students which is still in use today for students who are unable to return to Chiang Mai. In fact, all of our classrooms, which are not only air-conditioned and have air-purifiers, also have interactive whiteboards, a camera and sound so that those students can follow daily classes. Technology was a main area where we really invested and updated. Ours is state-of-the-art. We also kept in constant contact with teachers, students and their parents, helping students to learn, teachers to develop and parents to know that we are dedicated by upgrading our school on all fronts. Should this situation ever occur again, we are prepared and the transition will be seamless.”
Varee said that she designed every corner and every space of the school to be a convenient and excellent place for learning for both students and teachers. “We wish students to feel free to express and expand themselves while also coming together as a community.”
The school sits on 70 rai of land which it shares – along with some larger facilities such as swimming pools and football fields – with the bilingual Varee Chiang Mai school. It has a sophisticated music room with a plethora of musical instruments as well as the best sound system. Its performing arts room looks as though it could be off-Broadway, its two science labs, computer rooms, library, gyms, meeting rooms, canteens have all been designed by Varee herself and none have skimped on any feature. The school now has brand new furniture, it’s landscape redesigned, its walls repainted, new trees planted and everything is spick, span and sparkling. There is an enviable thirteenth year student lounge as well as a teachers’ lounge which could double as a business class lounge in most airports and the modern, sleek and cheerful buildings are all cosily carpeted and lit up with bright colours and boards featuring its students’ many achievements.
“We use Astroturf in some areas which are heavily used, but also have many natural gardens and lawns for kids to play in,” said Michelle Ring, the school’s in-house counsellor who says her door is open to any student, teacher or parent any time of the day. “It’s important for kids to play and Varee has really put a lot of effort into building a new gym, we have a couple of basketball courts, a pool, and she is even building a little coffee house for us!”
“One of the things now that is most important for me is to help the students feel as though life is normal. We do this by giving them special help, encouraging them to explore the things they love, like setting up a club, experimenting with our facilities such as our 3D modelling and scratch coding or joining the Duke of Edinburgh awards. They have had a hard six months and we are very aware of that.”
“Varee’s vision is to help build and support kids’ futures in body, heart and spirit. She has built her school on a foundation of compassion,” continued Ring who went on to talk about how the vibe at the school this year has been unprecedented. “It is all about unity. Teachers, students, parents, everyone seems genuinely happy to be here and to help one another. I think we did a great job keeping the spirits up over the past half year of hardness and everyone really understands and appreciates it. It is wonderful that all those big changes are bearing fruit. You can feel the excitement every morning as we all arrive. Counselling at an international school is especially important as different families from different cultures have different struggles leading to multiple layers of problems. Post Covid, many bonds have broken down at home and even among friends. But with support, the students are coming through.”
Varee International School has been open for ten years and how accepts students from kindergarten all the way through t A-levels. In fact, last year the school earned many A+ and its graduates have been placed in top-tiered universities around the world.
Varee Chiang Mai International School
53 Moo 6, Mahidol Road
Chiang Mai 50000