The We are Wellington series was introduced to allow anyone from the wider Wellington community, whether they are a pupil, parent or staff member, to share their experiences and thoughts about the College. As the very first family to register with Wellington College International Shanghai over four years ago when it opened, Emely Spagni and her daughter Serena, now in year 11, have witnessed and been part of the College’s entire story.
Emely: At the time, Serena was in a bilingual primary school and we were looking for the right international school with a UK curriculum. We were considering moving to the UK and through my research I discovered the writings of Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College in the UK at the time, and was very impressed with his philosophy of holistic education. I then saw in an expat magazine that Wellington was planning to build a new college in Shanghai. I felt that was fate or serendipity calling: we didn’t have to go to Wellington, it was coming to us!
Serena: We were also looking for a school capable of offering a lot in terms of extra-curricular activities because previous I’d been just focused heavily on academics. Seeing the kind of facilities and resources featured at Wellington UK and Tianjin, as well as what was promised for Wellington Shanghai, was a big incentive to come here.
Serena: My first year can be summed up in two words: unity and exploration. I’d never experienced a house system before but from the first minute I felt I was part of the school. It was a very natural fit and what I liked most was that nobody felt like an outsider. On the exploration side, even in the early days there were a ton of CCAs on offer with more coming up seemingly all the time. I literally signed up to as much as I could, which I’m really glad about because it let me discover a deep interest in the arts and music in particular.
Changes over time
Serena: There is a different feel to Wellington now compared to the first year or two, which is only natural given how much it has grown. We’ve seen lots of things expand quickly, like new facilities being built, more CCAs, more academies and so on. Now that things are more established, there’s even more of a focus on development and improvement. I’m Deputy Head of The Combermere and we have frequent meetings about what the school should change. I think it’s great that there’s so much emphasis on listening to everyone’s opinions about what they want to see happen next at Wellington.
However, what’s stayed the same is the overall unity and the sense of excitement about exploring education. You’d think that when a school grows this quickly, the quality of education and individual attention would drop off, but that isn’t what happened here at all. As pupils, we still feel respected and cared for, we still feel that our choices and opinions matter very much.
Another thing that’s remained the same is the acceptance and support from the teachers, which the pupils emulate by supporting each other. If anything is ever wrong, then there are so many different people who you can talk openly with.
Emely: This has been very reassuring for me as a parent. We’ve had very few issues throughout Serena’s time at Wellington, but any time there was anything that needed discussing, the staff involved have always been very supportive and understanding. They go out of their way to communicate their views on the issue at hand and help come up with the most flexible and appropriate solution.
Preparation for IGCSEs
Serena: We started preparing in year 9, so I definitely feel like I’m ready for this big exam year! We have so many support sessions and the teachers’ doors are always open. I also get a lot of help from my friends; we revise and research together a lot, complete our prep together and undertake group study sessions, I always have so many people to ask if I don’t fully understand something. That’s a very typical Wellington experience, I think.
Emely: Again, this is a big relief to know that the right elements of support are in place for Serena and all of her year group. Every school year is important but during exam years having that extra help and attention is great for dealing with the added pressure.
Serena: The amount of opportunities you get to explore new interests here is incredible. I discovered the drums in year 7 and over the past four years I’ve lost count of how many concerts and performances I’ve had the privilege of playing in. No matter what interests or excites you, there will always be an avenue for you to explore and enjoy it to the fullest.
Emely: Wellington is also great at giving pupils the chance to perform and take their interests beyond the school as well, which I think is another excellent opportunity. Serena’s played in jazz band nights in venues across the city, the Best of British Festival – there’s such a range of different creative opportunities and audiences for them to consider.
The Wellington Community
Emely: Wellington has done a very good job of getting that family feeling right early on and building on it. I’m still in touch with lots of parents who’ve been here from first or second year and this year I’ve been delighted to take on the role of the Friends of Wellington charity chairperson, which has been a great opportunity to be involved in more school events.
During the first year, the event that helped establish a great sense of community was the International Food Festival. I’m thrilled to see how it has grown every year; the parade, food and decorations become more and more impressive but at the heart of it there are parents and pupils who want to come together, appreciate each other and celebrate how special the community is.
Emely: There are too many to list! Whenever she took part in musical productions, either on stage or in the orchestra pit. Seeing her enjoy the ski trip, scuba diving trip, just seeing her seize every opportunity makes me very proud. The Scholar’s Cup was a particularly great memory.
Serena: I loved being part of the Scholar’s Cup team. We decided that we wanted to try out for this amazing international competition so we asked and the College said “yes”! It just made me think: “wow you really can do anything at this school”. We went to the Shanghai round, then the global round in Vietnam and Bangkok, and the final round at Yale University in Connecticut, USA. It was my first big international trip with the school and it was a great chance to talk to pupils of different ages from around the world, compete with them and share our ideas. It was such a cool highlight of my time here.
Serena: I think the main things I’m going to try to remember for my IB studies and later university career will be to always keep asking questions and to take the initiative. In the past, I often relied on my teachers to tell me what to do and what I’m good at. At Wellington, we’re given great guidance but are also encouraged to figure things out for ourselves.
Through Wellington, I’ve come to realise that education is a discussion, it’s not just the teacher spooning facts into the pupils’ brains, it’s a two-sided debate where everything can and should be challenged.
Final thoughts on Wellington
Emely: Parents, always encourage your children to try everything that Wellington offers; they don’t have to like everything but they will almost definitely find at least one or two things that really resonate with them. Hopefully they will love doing it for the rest of their life!
Serena: You will find yourself here, both in terms of discovering your passions and figuring out your personality. Don’t be scared, there are so many opportunities to do some truly amazing things, so take advantage of them.
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