Wheelock College-Singapore Class of 2017: “Transformers for Early Childhood Education”

The following is the speech given by Wheelock College President David Chard at the Wheelock College-Singapore commencement in June 2017. For more photos from graduation, go to

Good afternoon. Let me begin by thanking President Prof Tan and the Singapore Institute of Technology for being Wheelock College’s generous host over the past many years and being such an avid supporter of our work.

Of course, I also want to thank Beth Fredericks and her team for their hospitality and support and for the Wheelock faculty who are the backbone of our programs here in Singapore.

President David Chard at Wheelock College-Singapore graduation 2017

Greetings from our Boston campus. We celebrated Commencement there last month with the same excitement you all feel today. It has been a tremendous year for us as a college. I am thrilled to announce that in July, Wheelock College will be welcoming a new Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Mary Churchill. Mary will oversee all academic programming including our Singapore programs. I look forward to introducing her to Wheelock in Singapore sometime very soon.

Wheelock students, you are the lifeblood of our college. We have been particularly proud of our students this year, as so many of them have had amazing accomplishments.

Two particular highlights are that we had our first Fulbright Scholar, Meilin Chong, Class of 2017, who will be spending 10 months in Ecuador teaching English to university students and conducting research into international differences in bilingual education. And, very importantly, two teams here in Singapore were awarded our Student Research Day awards judged by our faculty and our Academic Resources Staff. It is important to all of us that our Singapore students and our US students see themselves as one student body!

Welcome to parents, families, alumni and friends here in Singapore! Class of 2017, join me in thanking your family and friends for their support of your studies.

I’ve been President of Wheelock College for less than a year, and this is already my second trip to Singapore. We can’t stay away! Of course, the relationship between Wheelock and Singapore dates back nearly 30 years when Wheelock Professor Joan Bergstrom began working with colleagues here and our partnership began to take shape leading to the degree programs and training initiatives that have been so meaningful to both our campus in Boston as well as to our alumni and current students here in Singapore.

And, I’d like to think that it has been particularly important to the children and families of Singapore that have enjoyed the support and care of our teachers/alumni. Our work with Singapore educators is one of the strongest global efforts in early childhood and care in the world and, together, we have created a legacy in early childhood development that is a model for southeast Asia and beyond. We continue to work to create a vision for Wheelock-Singapore into the future.

Class of 2017, today is your day! Congratulations! Today is about you and your accomplishments. Whether you have set out to become an early childhood educator, you see yourself as an educational entrepreneur or you have returned to Wheelock to pursue your graduate degree in an effort to deepen your skills and knowledge, you have all committed yourself to improving the lives of children and their families.

You may know that this is the season of superheroes. Michael and I recently saw the new Wonder Woman movie. I want to tell you about the superhero who founded Wheelock College in 1888: At the age of only 31, Lucy Wheelock found her cause, the welfare of Boston’s poor, immigrant families, particularly their children who, at that time, were not benefitting from the industrial age. In fact, much like today, income disparity was growing and poverty was a pernicious challenge for families living in Boston as well as across the US. Lucy Wheelock saw in her position of privilege a responsibility to act.

In many ways, Lucy Wheelock was a revolutionary, a pioneer, a radical, some called her a heretic. I think she was a superhero. Her radical tool to reform education in the United States was kindergarten. More precisely, she wanted to prepare early childhood educators to serve children with a better kindergarten, a kindergarten that gave children freedom to play, to learn from their environment, to shape their values, and improve their lives. Her interest in service shaped the mission of Wheelock College for over 129 years, and counting.

I thought about the actions of early childhood educators, and how everyday they commit themselves to the development of young people. And, for sure, when done well, being a teacher is an heroic act.

But, I think the class of 2017, as early childhood educators, you are more than heroic. This made me think about another type of motion picture hero, the Transformers! The latest installment of the “Transformers” series will open in theatres. You might know of the transformer animated cartoons and toys that change from automobiles or animals to robots. Do you remember their jingle: “Transformers: More than meets the eye!!”

I believe that you, Wheelock graduates, are transformers for early childhood education. On the surface, you seem like kind, generous, and knowledgeable early childhood development experts, but underneath the surface, I know you are superheroes who transform lives. Let me tell you how I know this.

What exactly about Early Childhood Education and Care, particularly like that promoted in an education at Wheelock College has prepared you to take on the superhero role and to have a transformative impact on children’s lives?

The research used to build Wheelock programs suggests that effective early childhood education and care includes:

— Adult-child interactions that are responsive, affectionate and readily available (helping children build their brain architecture; 700 neural connections per second when appropriately engaged)

— Selecting and preparing teachers who are committed to their work

— Facilities that are safe, healthy, and accessible to parents

— Ongoing professional development that ensures continuity, stability and improving quality

— Perhaps most important, a developmentally appropriate, play-based curriculum that allows children to continue to be children.

When these features, certainly features promoted in your education at Wheelock, are present, the impact can be transformative:

— Accelerating cognitive and language development o Mitigating the risk of toxic stress due to poverty o Improving social and emotional wellness including lower levels of aggressive behavior

— Enhancing the precursors to early academic development

— Improving early childhood health, including better immunization records and less hospitalization

— Strengthening engagement and relationships with parents (decreasing negative interactions)

— Reducing the risk of developing special education needs.

Beyond what the research tells us about the importance of early childhood education, it is also important to invoke the intangibles that you brought to your Wheelock education. I witnessed these yesterday when I learned about your service learning projects. These are the values that attracted you to become teachers: commitment, love of children, your sense of responsibility, and your interest in transforming lives. Understand that this is not a career choice without challenges. As you grow in your career, take care of yourself and be available and supportive for one another.

Wheelock is looking to you graduates, as you become alumni, to help us remain strong and connected here in Singapore. Your ongoing commitment to Wheelock through your professional work and your financial gifts, make our programs accessible to those who decide to serve as transformers after you.

The good news is that Wheelock has a very strong and attractive mission, but we must make it our mission to spread the word about Wheelock to students who would be a good fit here in Singapore and other parts of the region and the world. Michael and I are honored to be here with you today.

Congratulations, transformers of the Wheelock class of 2017!

New article by Wheelock-Singapore students in AECES Journal

Another article published by students of Wheelock College-Singapore. Unfolding Creative Minds is written by Eileen Chia Ming Xiu, Nurul Amalina Omar, and Tan Xin Yi, and published in AECES Journal (Association for Early Childhood Educators Singapore), June 2017 edition. It was written as part of Professor Margaret Leitch Copeland’s class on public policy and advocacy.

Wheelock Alumni Celebration!

Three for one! You can’t beat that for an Alumni celebration – dinner with President Chard, a local faculty gallery of curriculum projects, and the premier of “Voices of Children”! OH…and don’t forget to get your Master’s degree! Thinking about it? One last cohort coming up starting January 2018. Tell your friends, bring your colleagues…we will preview the Master’s program too. Can’t wait to see you there!

Click on the poster below for more information about this brand new documentary!

Singapore team award winners at Wheelock’s annual student research symposium

Wheelock College’s third annual Student Research and Scholarship Conference was held Friday, April 28, 2017, in Boston, MA, USA. It  featured presentations, panel discussions, and poster displays from students across Wheelock’s Boston and Singapore campuses.

2017 Conference Award Winners

Singapore students Skype in to the Wheelock College Student Research and Scholarship Conference in Boston

Singapore students Skype in to Wheelock College Student Research and Scholarship Conference in Boston

This year’s award-winning student projects were:

Library Research Award: Tan Xin Yi, Eileen Chia, Anne Chua, and Zoey Tan for their project, “Refining Children’s Reading Comprehension through an Exposure to Wordless Books.” The Singapore team presented their findings via Skype. For their study, the team encouraged nine kindergarteners, aged 5-6 years, to come up with stories based on the images they were shown in a picture book. The team then explored how the children used visual clues, made inferences, and determined the main idea of the book.

Emerging Scholars Award: Meilin Chong for her poster presentation, “21st Century Bilingual Education Models.”

Center for Scholarship and Research Award: Haley Gaughanfor her poster presentation, “Too Hot for School: Urban Campuses Impact Urban Heat Island Effect.”

Scholarship in Action Award: Carly Johnson for her presentation, “Friendship in College: The Relationship between Shared Values and Commitment to Activism.”

International Award: Emily Hart for “Venezuelan Development and 21st Century Socialism: Can ALBA Save the Day?” and Margaret Secakusuma for “Proxy State: The Role of the U.S. in Indonesia’s Invasion of East Timor.”

See the full 2017 Conference Program (pdf)

2017 Conference Schedule

8:45 AM – Welcome and Opening Remarks
David Chard, President
Detris Adelabu, Interim Dean of Arts and Sciences and Chair, Conference Planning Committee

9:00-10:00 AM – Singapore Student Presentations

  • Deepening Story Comprehension through Participatory Story Drama
    Jill See, Bethany Chang, Cheng Su Yi, Nural Amalina
  • Refining Children’s Reading Comprehension Skills through an Exposure to Wordless Books
    Tan Xin Yi, Eileen Chia, Anne Chua, Zoey Tan

10:00-11:30 AM – Main Campus Student Presentations

  • A Caregiver’s Journey through an Autism Diagnosis
    Alexandra Abrecht
  • Friendship in College: The Relationship between Values and Activism
    Carly Johnson, Jenne Powers
  • Flashback to Fairytales & Folktales
    Christina Bebe
  • Environmental Factors and Autism Rates
    Jamie Gentile

11:30 AM-12:30 PM – Research Project Poster Presentations

12:30-1:00 PM – Presentation of Awards and Wrap-up

Wheelock-Singapore students in the news

We couldn’t be more proud of our students who have been printed in various publications lately! Inspired by Prof. Margaret Leitch-Copeland’s Advocacy module, we have articles focused on parent involvement, staff:child ratios in preschools, and learning on the playground.

Congrats to Mei Xian and Beatrice Lim for this one (page 32 and 33 of The New Age Parents Magazine, April/May Issue):


Congrats to Alex Au, Jill See, Pamela Tan and Wendy Yee for this one:

Congrats to Charis Chua, Brenda Toh and Nur Dakhirah Binte Jamaludin for this one:

Congrats to Denise Lee, Joey Lim, and Hui Ru Yeo for submitting the thought-provoking Using Interviews with Multiple Generations to Build an Advocacy Case for Young Children in Singapore Learning their Family Chinese Dialects. (Still waiting on hoped-for publication.)

How about another round of applause for our student groups who submitted to the Third Annual Wheelock College Student Research and Scholarship Conference! We’ll find out if they were accepted any minute, but for now, big ups for throwing their hat in the ring!

— Refining Children’s Reading Comprehension Skills Through an Exposure to Wordless Books 

Tan Xin Yi, Eileen Chia, Anne Chua, and Zoey Tan

— Deepening Story Comprehension Through Participatory Story Drama

Jill See, Bethany Chang, Su Yi Cheng, Nurul Amalina



Undergraduate and alumna featured in Straits Times early childhood supplement

Wheelock College-Singapore/Singapore Institute of Technology undergraduate Trenna Liong is featured in this recent Straits Times supplement, “Small steps, big impact: Early childhood educators play an important part in shaping young minds” (see page R5).

Screen Shot 2017-02-21 at 3.39.03 PM

Trenna Liong

In addition, alumna Melissa Bea is featured in a story on page R6.

Small steps, big impact, ST Recruit – 18 Feb 2017

Faculty spotlight: Nancy Clark-Chiarelli

Nancy Clark-Chiarelli is a research scientist in early childhood education with international experience that frequently brings her to Singapore, among other places around the world.

She is currently teaching two courses at Wheelock College-Singapore, one called Assessment of Children With Special Needs, and the other, Interpersonal Skills of Leadership.

Nancy previously taught the course on Assessment of Children with Special Needs in Singapore in 2014 and in Boston when students traveled to the Wheelock College campus in Boston, MA. However, she feels the course has more contextual relevance in Singapore, where she sees great strides being made on the special education front.


Nancy Clark-Chiarelli

“Singapore has come such a long way in terms of special needs. There is much greater awareness of, and advocacy for, families and their children with special needs. Educators and parents want access to inclusive education classrooms and parents are more aware today of the benefits for their children with disabilities.”

Of course, advocating for families with special needs children takes leadership skills, and learning these skills is what Nancy teaches in her second course, Interpersonal Skills of Leadership.

“The vision is that our Wheelock students will be Sinapore’s leaders in early childhood in the very near future. Wheelock has a solid track record in that regard, with the undergraduate program and the master’s program at SEED. When one surveys the landscape of early childhood leaders in Singapore, you find an abundance of Wheelock alumni.”

The leadership course also emphasizes the interpersonal aspect of leadership, and additionally ties in the importance of advocacy. “It helps students to confront the challenges that come with being a leader. The focus is on developing communication skills, undergirded by knowledge and competence, in the service of effective leadership.”

“One of the characteristics of good leadership is having a vision that people all buy into. At a macro level, Singapore’s government leaders have a vision of where they are going and how to get there – that drives a lot of the other sectors including early childhood.”

In addition to her teaching duties at Wheelock, Nancy is principal research scientist at the Education Development Center in Massachusetts, and recently finished a posting in the Philippines as senior technical advisor to the Ministry of Education, working on a project called Basa Pilipinas—or “Read Philippines” that has helped thousands of early primary teachers use better literacy techniques in the classroom.

Her research agenda includes children learning in the context of multiple languages. For example, children in the Philippines often learn in three languages – a mother tongue, Filipino, and English, similar to children in Singapore who learn in mother tongue, English, and often at least one more language and maybe more.

Nancy reflects with pride at Wheelock’s lasting contributions to early childhood education in Singapore and is grateful for her opportunity to contribute.

“Wheelock has helped develop a strong foundation for early childhood in Singapore. The young women and men who have graduated from the Wheelock program, they have and will continue to advance the sector in all ways.”

Faculty spotlight: Lori Harris

Lori Harris, a US-based early childhood education consultant and trainer whose teaching in Singapore goes back to the early 2000s, is currently teaching the juniors class at Wheelock College-Singapore.

One course, Mentoring and Coaching, focuses on effective observation, communication and supervising skills.

“Mentoring seems to be defined in Singapore as quite centered-focused. For example, you begin teaching in a center and you get mentored to learn about that center’s operation. This module looks at the bigger picture of mentoring.”

Lori Harris

Lori Harris

Among the issues covered are what kind of qualifications go to into being a mentor, and the differences between being a mentor and a coach.

“The word coaching feels more collaborative as opposed to top-down. Thinking about HOW to coach, how you ask questions so they can tell you what they need, it becomes a more iterative process as opposed to, ‘I’m going to figure out what you need and I’m going to tell you how you do it.’ “

The course has a strong tie-in with her second one, Communication and Collaboration with Families.

“The combining of the mentoring and the communication class feels like a perfect match, because part of their struggles as mentors and mentees is how do you talk about this stuff.

“If I have to give feedback to someone and I feel awkward talking about this, what are some of the words I can use, and what are some of the messages? How do you use whole messaging? How do you avoid some of the pitfalls that come into place whenever you’re talking to other people, particularly if you’re in a culture that is very thoughtful about what the older generation has to offer. How do I respect my elders and get the message across and be an advocate. We spend a lot of time talking about that.”

Early educators in Singapore, like elsewhere, face the challenge of communicating with parents of children in a way that is respectful and meaningful. They must also explain the methodologies behind classroom learning – what preschool teachers do and why — as well as the importance of a stimulating learning environment in a child’s earliest years.

“What does a great environment do for kids? It seems a pretty universal problem, communicating that to parents. It’s just a lack of understanding, and how do we bridge the gap.”

A Wheelock alumnae, Lori is a longtime child care administrator, teacher and trainer, and has her own outdoor training program to encourage learning in outdoor settings.

She also teaches financial management to help early childhood program administrators advocate for early education policies based on a sound understanding of budget issues.

An article Lori wrote on financial management for early educators can be found here and she is developing a book on the same subject.

As the Wheelock program with the Singapore Institute of Technology winds down, Lori credits Wheelock with helping Singapore to develop a broader and deeper approach to early learning.

“I am so grateful for the opportunity to join Wheelock in contributing to Singapore’s early childhood sector growth and development over the past sixteen years. I have met some Singapore friends-for-life and honestly, I often think that I learned more than I taught.”

How to improve the quality of pre-school services here in Singapore


Wheelock alums Lee Wan Ling, Ang Hui Teng, Beth Fredericks, Priscilla Tan, and Choo Wan Ting celebrating Autumn Moon Festival at Preschool By-the-Park.

By Beth Fredericks

Many thanks to the Straits Times for its coverage of Singaporean preschool principals traveling to Wheelock College in Boston to learn new ways to improve the quality of pre-school services here in Singapore. (“Pre-school heads get fresh ideas from learning trip to US,” 30 Oct., by Priscilla Goy, click here for story).

Many thanks also to the Lien Foundation, a leadership organization that has showed the way once again by providing a grant to send 24 pre-school leaders to the United States for the innovative learning journey.

The six-month leadership programme is called Principal Matters, and it includes leadership seminars, mentorships, and the recently completed nine-day trip to Boston, the home base of Wheelock College, a top pre-school training institute which has had a local presence in Singapore for the last quarter century. Partners in the programme include Wheelock College; the NTUC’s Seed Institute, the largest pre-school training provider in Singapore; Sequoia Consulting, and human resources consultancy firm Korn Ferry Hay Group.

Preschools need strong leadership like never before. As demand for quality preschool continues to grow, Singapore’s pre-school sector faces challenges that urgently need to be addressed, including a high exit rate in the profession, with too many preschool teachers leaving the classroom after only a few years.

Low pay is among the reasons for the shortage of preschool teachers. In a separate story, Priscilla Goy reports that educators in publicly funded pre-schools in Boston are on the same pay scale as those teaching in primary schools if they have the same qualifications.

By contrast, Priscilla reports, preschool teachers in Singapore receive relatively low pay and are still seen by some as glorified babysitters.

Pre-school teachers earn an average of $2,200 to $3,000, based on data gathered by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) last year.

The median salary for university graduates last year was $3,300.

Meanwhile, the Government’s plan is to ramp up childcare places to make it easier for women to enter and remain in the workforce. A projected 4,000 more preschool educators are needed by 2020, on top of today’s 16,000 preschool educators.

So let’s connect the dots … innovative leadership in the early childhood sector could better bring to public attention the need for better salaries, and foster a larger pool of preschool teachers and smaller staff-child ratios.

Examples abound of good teachers who make a difference in the lives of children. The Straits Times recently told the story of Bianca Tan, a young Singaporean who was inspired by the support she had growing up with dyslexia to become an early childhood educator. Good public policy is needed to keep such driven early childhood educators in the classroom, instead of leaving in search for better pay and recognition. See

Another young preschool teacher recently wrote on her Facebook page about the collaboration between teachers and parents.

 Parent: is there anything you think we should do at home?

 Me: you should read with your children, read for pleasure. Get them to choose a book they will like to read with you and just do it.

As Eugene Leong, chief executive of the Early Childhood Development Agency, pointed out in a recent letter, pre-school educators play an important role in building a strong foundation for our children in their early years. See

The availability of quality preschool teachers makes all the difference in the lives of children and families, and makes life more manageable for working parents as well.

Neuroscientists and policymakers have shown us the critical importance of early learning, and the government has subsidised fees at childcare centres according to the salary of the parents. But it is still a challenge to find and keep enough good teachers to make up for low compensation and the allure of higher paying professions. The Lien Foundation was giving us a big clue when they named this leadership grant “Principal Matters.” It is the principals who can make all the difference.

BETH FREDERICKS is executive director of Wheelock College-Singapore.

Teach kids self-control, focus and how to manage emotions

These life skills help them do better in school and in life, says US childhood development expert

Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent

It’s that time of the year when parents of children entering Primary 1 in January start fretting over whether their six-year-olds will be able to keep up with their peers in mathematics and English. Many, in a last-ditch effort, resort to enrolling their children in expensive Primary 1 preparatory classes or hiring private tutors.

This is a yearly ritual that plays out among parents around the world – from Singapore to New York, where early childhood development expert Ellen Galinsky is based.

She is most well known for the go-to book for parents she authored in 2010, Mind In The Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs. Continue reading …