A Look at KAIS, KA’s International School

Tommy House, Principal of KAIS High School
Justin Bethune, Principal of KAIS Elementary and Middle School

If you’ve ever stopped by the KA Toritsudaigaku or KA Meguro campuses, then you may have noticed an entirely different team working alongside the KA staff and teachers. These folks are the Alpacas and Llamas of KAIS (our school mascots, by the way), the international school branch of KA International composed of two campuses in the Tokyo area: KAIS International Elementary & Middle School serves Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 8 students in Toritsudaigaku, while KAIS International High School works with the older kids down the road in Meguro. 

Like most international schools and organizations, we have clear Mission and Vision statements. The KAIS mission is to serve Tokyo’s international community by providing an academically challenging, creatively stimulating, safe, and caring learning environment. KAIS students, families, and staff share a common vision: together, we seek to foster confident, curious, and self-fulfilled individuals; to nurture empathetic, welcoming, and socially responsible members of the community; and to cultivate future leaders, conscientious and enthusiastic agents of positive change in the world. Simply put, our goal is to nurture joyful, healthy, and well-rounded individuals who exemplify the values, attitudes, and expectations necessary to effectively shape one’s life and thrive in a complex and uncertain global environment. Although established a decade apart, both the Elementary & Middle School and High School share this mission and vision, as well as an approach characterized by personalized instruction, small class sizes, high academic standards and expectations, frequent project-based learning opportunities, a culture of care and social-emotional support, and a school culture of genuine care, empathy, and respect. 

KAIS International High School was founded in 2006 under the name Kikokushijo Academy International School. With a couple of teachers and only one student in our first term, we grew out of humble beginnings, starting in a small house in Jiyugaoka, moving to Meguro in 2009, then again to the current high school campus in 2017. While we’ve grown remarkably since our inception, our small class sizes (by design) have ensured that we maintain the friendly, personable, and family-like atmosphere that we first set out to create years ago – in other words, the school we wished we went to, a place where students love learning. 

We believe smaller classes, hands-on learning, and balance between disciplines is a key component in our students’ growth and development. The goal of KAIS has always been to provide students with a holistic education – one that emphasizes the academic, the creative, and the physical. Our students learn in small classes in a family-like atmosphere, where they develop their connectedness to others while exploring who they are as individuals. Small class sizes allow more opportunities for our students to engage in hands-on projects, receive individual attention from instructors, present their work to their peers, and participate in discussions. 

Like its older brother, the Elementary & Middle School is not your typical school. Established in 2014 by a small team of passionate educators, it has evolved over the years to have a very idiosyncratic learning environment – one that blends established goals with progressive methods to inspire joy in learning. Free of strict requirements and established traditions, we were allowed to test out several new ideas and iterate upon them over the years. It wasn’t easy, but as a team, we eventually found our footing! Years later, all the best ideas floated to the top, forming some of the key characteristics of our small school.

The KAIS family continues to develop and grow, setting its sights next to international accreditation with the Council of International Schools (CIS). This multi-year process has helped scaffold the self-improvement process, providing us with clear standards and rubrics to follow in order to maximize the quality of our teaching, learning, safety, and overall student experience. While the next milestone in this process has sadly been pushed to 2023 due to COVID, the EMS and HS look forward to meeting this next challenge together. If you’re curious about KAIS, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’d be happy to show you around!

The Juken Year in Retrospect: 2021-22

Joe-Joe Moran-Douglas

As the 2020-21 year came to a close, we knew we had a few tasks ahead of us. Despite the pandemic and the challenges (and opportunities) that it threw up, thanks to everyone’s amazing efforts, KA had achieved fantastic Juken results that we were keen not only to replicate but to build on. As part of our strategic priorities, we wanted to make sure that students both adjusting to in-person teaching and returning to Japan were comfortable on campus and doing well emotionally. An increase in applications and success in fifth-grade classes also meant that we had both the need and the opportunity to share Juken classes among more members of the teaching staff, making training a priority. 

And so—as many of you will remember—we set to work on a few key changes.

Based on observations, feedback from teachers, and a wide range of discussions based on student needs, we could see a clear need to give some students a little more focused support in some areas while opening up the KA experience to others, and so for the first time we offered Foundations-level classes in both 5th and 6th grades, with the goal of helping those students to feel comfortable and move up as quickly as possible. 

To boost testing skills, we also launched 5th Juken Readiness. The results of this new “third-hour” program will only become completely clear this year, but students’ progress in 5th grade was huge, and we’re already seeing that our new 6th Juken students are comfortable and prepared in testing situations. 

And key to all of this was training. Following on from KA’s initial onboarding process, we embarked on the first iteration of Juken Licensing, with over twenty-five teachers taking part. We covered a number of key areas, and I was very pleased to see that students in all KA classes were familiar with key terms and methods. As part of the licensing process, we also ran our weekly Course Focus Team sessions, which turned out to be more inspirational than I could have imagined. Sharing ideas and techniques with teachers ranging from veterans to those new to Juken brought up fantastic ideas, and each week, I left not only ready to teach but having learned something new. I’m truly grateful to everyone who participated.

Of course, these were just a few of the changes we made. Shoei changed their essay style and Hiroo began to accept the TOEFL iBT, requiring some changes in approach in our classes. We discussed the crucial role assistants play in our students’ experience and helped to standardize their approach somewhat. We increased our VC offerings for students to take third (and fourth!) hour classes—including more math—and we added more to KA Connect so students could get more out of class each week. Our curriculum and library teams also continued to raise the bar and provide support for our Juken students. Our High School Juken team set new, high bars for our students, setting up future years for success. And of course, through essay grading, support, and constant guidance, our KA Juken teachers and essay graders really made the Juken year something special for every student.

I’m delighted—and grateful—to say that it worked out. Importantly, in every metric, 6th Juken students rated their KA experience even better than in previous years, and knowing that they were not only happy but also excited to come and join us at KA each week spoke to the excellent job that everyone was doing in each school.

And the results bore this out, too, with greater success in a number and wide variety of tests.
For two top schools, every student who passed the test was from KA, and for one other we were just one away. And in many others, the number of KA students passing increased dramatically. 
You might think that this is because so many KA students apply to each school, but I promise that it isn’t: where application numbers were available, KA students outperformed the expected average every time.

But our success isn’t all about the most “prestigious” schools or outcomes. I was over the moon to see this year that many students—including our Foundations students—earned places in schools that their families love and where they can continue to receive support and understanding in English. For many, these are schools of their dreams, and coupled with a KA education provide a springboard to the future. If you’ll allow me a brief aside, I’d like to share a recent, related story. Back in 2015, we had a student who was in an intermediate class and who was accepted to a relatively new program at a school called “Hiroo Gakuen”. That same student, having developed the skills he had built as a Juken student at Hiroo, and knowing what KA could offer rejoined us for the SAT program, and I’m delighted to say he has very recently been accepted to UCLA. His story is just one of many I could share involving our juken students going on to do incredible things, and knowing this is also why the wonderful outcomes we saw for our students mean so much. The commitment everyone made to helping these students grow and to working with them on the challenges they faced, and—fundamentally and crucially, —believing in them was incredible to observe, and I was both ecstatic and grateful to see the word “pass” next to so many of those students’ names, as well as all of those headed to the most competitive schools.

In short: we’re immensely proud of everyone’s achievements last year. Our teachers, staff, students, and their families all deserve a huge (still socially distanced) pat on the back. It was truly a team effort, and one that went well. 

But one of the joys of Juken is that the process is never quite “done”, and success—for both teachers and the next group of students—requires constant reflection, growth, and improvement. I hope that everyone involved in Juken has enjoyed learning about test techniques, refining their knowledge of grammar, and honing their skills as writing teachers, and that you continue to do so. This year, we’re looking to boost our program even further. We have the newly formed Juken Management Team who will be making sure that everything runs more smoothly and that there is more support for everyone. Our essays will be graded consistently by essay mentors. A whole new group of teachers have begun the process of obtaining their Juken license. We’re offering Power Up! courses to help students build a better understanding of the newly-popular analytical-style essays. And we’re redesigning elements of our High School Juken program to make it even stronger than before. This all comes with the support of numerous others in various departments, and all of KA’s teachers and staff. 

So while being a Juken teacher means taking on a lot of responsibility, it also brings a lot of rewards—rewards that stretch far beyond exam success that I hope you’ve enjoyed. And I’m very much looking forward to working with everyone this year to help continue to build that success across KA.