Fred Ding and Yu-Lin Phavichitr started at WISS in 2006 and 2007 respectively. This idea of the “WISS family” was the catalyst for the caring community which we still know and experience today. Together, they reflect on the early stages of WISS and how this incredibly diverse “family” was brought together by the common vision of bringing the IB and its philosophy and values to Shanghai.
We often look at our children and think, “they grow up so fast.” In the blink of an eye, our infants grow up to be teenagers, and soon thereafter, we are sending them off into adulthood. The growth of WISS, from 37 students to 770 in 10 short years, mirrors this feeling of “time flying.”
Nobody understands this better than Fred Ding, Administrative Manager, and Yu-Lin Phavichitr, HR Director who both joined WISS in the early stages. Fred was the first Chinese employee to join WISS in January of 2006 and has held many different roles and responsibilities within the school. “In those early days, the office was the dining room table out of the home of Founding Director, Dr. Alfonso Orsini. The first year was difficult. It took a lot of work,” Fred remembers regarding the construction of the first building (Early Years). “At the time, the campus was on barren land. There were villages surrounding the land and there was a lot of negotiation needed with the local villagers in order to build,” says Fred. Getting families to enroll in a brand new school was also no easy task. The first office was actually located in the Le Chambord clubhouse which is also where the first Secondary classes were held. “In the beginning, we had nothing to show the families except for the planned construction, “ says Fred.
Yu-Lin was recruited with the help of one of the first WISS parents who invited her to attend the Inauguration Day. Out of surprise, she met several former parents from her previous school, and her instinct said to her that WISS was the right place. Soon thereafter, she had a meeting with Dr. Alfonso Orsini, Founding Director of WISS. “Dr. Orisni was the soul of the school. His charisma, his care for each and every one of us just drew you in,” recalls Yu-Lin. Yu-Lin joined the staff and started working on marketing the school and later as Admissions Director. “We had a goal to reach 100 students by the opening of Year 2, and we surpassed our goal with more than130 students!” says Yu Lin. She used every possible connection and opportunity to spread the word about WISS. This included canvassing the city with flyers, going to as many compounds that would allow her access, calling everyone in her phone directory inviting them to come and see the school, organizing Director’s Luncheons and attending school fair throughout the city. During that time in 2007, most people’s reaction was that WISS was “too small, too far, and nobody knows IB.” “It was very tough to convince people to come. Sometimes we overwhelmed our prospective visiting parents by several passionate educators and eager founding parents. We just couldn’t wait to share and convince them to join!. Many of our enrollments were through word of mouth, existing parents telling their friends and neighbors to join,” recalls Yu-Lin. As WISS grew, so did its reputation for a caring and family-like community. Yu-Lin also states, “Dr. Orsini, knew the name of every student and could talk personally about each child to the parents. He was at the gate greeting the students off the bus each and every morning. He lived out the IB philosophy and values and it affected everyone around him.”
As the years continued, the word of mouth spread further about the caring community at WISS. At the same time, the IB curriculum also began to gain traction in the education community. “Suddenly, WISS was not too far, too small and everybody knew IB,” Yu-Lin exclaims of the change. Yet with all the growth, all the changes, both Fred and Yu-Lin agree what makes WISS so special is this creation of this magical “WISS family.” “The WISS community is for everybody. It is a place for people who want to belong to a community in a new country, new land or new city, anyone who wants to be part of a family,” says Yu-Lin.