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Wed, Nov 18, 2009
The New Paper
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Look Ma! I'm a superstar
by Shree Ann Mathavani

LIKE pop stars, they record their album in a professional recording studio.

Their concert is a $60,000 production involving prestigious venues, special choreography and custom- made costumes.

But they are not professional artistes.

They are pre-schoolers from this year’s graduating batch of 240 kids from Pat’s Schoolhouse, an early childhood education provider which takes in kids between four months and 6 years old.

Later this month, the children’s graduation concert will see them starring in two musicals – an English and Chinese one at Raffles Hotel.

The hefty price tag to stage “The Little Prince” and “The Best of Friends” include the cost of recording in private studios, props, booking the venue, transportation, food during rehearsals and an engraved silver ring meant as a keepsake for the children.

Parents had to pay about $100 for two made-to-measure costumes for each child, and $50 per concert ticket.

There is also a concert DVD, CD and photographs of the children in graduation gown sold for about $155.

This is not the first time Pat’s Schoolhouse has held such lavish graduation concerts. It has organised 18 such concerts in its 21-year history.

Its founder, Mrs Patricia Koh, 58, said the school had previously staged musicals such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Fiddler on the Roof and Wizard of Oz.

Mrs Koh, who choreographs the dances for the concerts, said: “If kids are just waving their hands or performing repetitive actions, it’s not stretching their potential because children are capable of more.

“Such productions help train their mind and teach them to work as a team. It builds confidence.” But do parents mind paying hundreds of dollars to have their children take part in the concerts?

In the past 18 years, there have been only “one or two” parents who opted out of the concerts, said Mrs Koh.

Parents like Mrs Annie Cheong, 39, a manager in a market research company, spent about $400 on costumes, souvenirs and tickets for her son Ethan’s graduation last year.

It’s money well-spent, said the mother of two.

She said: “It’s all right because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing and not something you do every day. So, I don’t really see it as extravagant.”

Mrs Michelle Jam, a secretary in her 30s, agreed.

Her daughter, Mariessa Yeo Jam, now 8, graduated from Pat’s Schoolhouse two years ago.

Learning experience

She said: “Every part of the production is a learning experience. Besides, parents do have a choice to opt out if they are against their child participating.” Pat’s Schoolhouse isn’t the only school going all out for its graduation concerts.

Chiltern House spent about $24,000 on its graduation concerts last month for its cohort of 160 students.

This included the booking of the venue, production of the concert DVDs and photography.

The children performed both English and Mandarin skits at the Singapore Repertory Theatre.

The production cost was offset by the sale of tickets at $32 each, as well as DVD and photo sales.

This meant the school eventually spent only about $6,000.

Costs were kept low by having the children create their own props like masks, and having simple costumes such as this year’s colourful T-shirts, which cost about $10 each.

Mrs Fiona Walker, 40, the principal director for Julia Gabriel Centre for Learning and Chiltern House, said that in the 14 years of holding such graduation concerts, the school has never had parents or children opting out.

She said: “I think it’s incredibly important to ask ‘who is this evening for?’

“Surely the answer is ‘it’s for the children’. They must be able to enjoy themselves and see the performance as the highlight of their time in school.”

But not all schools believe that graduation concerts should be extravagant affairs.

For its graduation cohort of 200 students, Eton- House International Education Group holds separate concerts at each of its nine individual pre-schools.

For instance, at some of its branches, students write their own speeches or scripts, which they then act out.

No tickets are sold for the concert, said Mr John Cooley, Eton House’s executive principal.

At the Marsiling branch of the PAP Community Foundation (PCF) kindergarten, this year’s graduation concert was held last month at Republic Polytechnic’s Cultural Hall.

Each of its 200 graduates had two free tickets, while additional tickets were sold at $5 each.

It cost about $6,000 to book the venue, which included the use of sound systems and lighting, said Mrs Nancy Tew, the branch’s administrator.

Parents had to pay between $20 and $50 if they wanted to buy DVDs and photographs, she added.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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