Stepping into Taipei American School (TAS) can be quite a deja vu experience for anyone who went to school in the US. It’s not just the sight of the US flags, the sound of American English in the hallways or the cut-outs of jack-o-lanterns and goblins when Halloween is approaching — the high energy and vibrant go-getter spirit leave that unmistakable impression of a US school atmosphere.
Located in the heart of Tianmu (天母) and spanning 62,192m², the hulking red brick building has become a landmark.
What started out with only eight students in 1949 in the basement of the Presbyterian Theologian Seminary on Zhongshan N Road has developed into a school with a student body of more than 2,200, while the faculty has steadily grown to 280 staffers.
“What really sets TAS apart from all the other international schools is the student body itself,” said Sharon Hennessy, the school superintendent and an acclaimed educator with three decades of experience.
TAS students are “hardworking, well-rounded and intrinsically self-motivated,” Hennessy said.
The school’s campus includes libraries on virtually every floor, including a Chinese-language library. There are also two gymnasiums and an indoor swimming pool, computers and video editing labs, an indoor climbing wall and two softball fields.
One of the walls at the Lower School is covered with large pictures of characters from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, making it a perfect reading corner to nestle up and share good books with good friends.
“The beauty is that TAS students have high desires to achieve their goals and the push does not always come externally, but from the students themselves,” Hennessy said.
TAS is not only modeled on, but also follows developments in the US education system.
It offers 22 advanced placement — or college preparatory — courses and 34 International Baccalaureate courses, ranging from art history to statistics to dance.
Many TAS graduates continue to top universities in the US and other countries, including Switzerland, China, Poland, Singapore, Canada, Japan, Australia, Norway and, of course, Taiwan.
Hennessy, formerly a French teacher, a guidance counselor at both private and public schools and an adjunct professor at Boston University, said that while other schools may face the challenge of motivating students to learn, TAS focuses more on preparing them for a fast-paced world.
TAS focuses on giving students the skills to be good global citizens, she said.
“In this school, the cool thing to do is to be good,” she said.
For Hennessy, in addition to fostering academic excellence, helping students grow up to be ethical — honest, responsible, respectful and tolerant of different cultures and backgrounds — is part and parcel of offering a good education.
Students volunteer at several charities. A board put up by the Community Service Club shows pictures and letters of appreciation from the Eden Foundation and other groups.
Recently, a group of 34 students went to Cambodia on a humanitarian trip in collaboration with the Tabitha Foundation to build homes for underprivileged families.
“Even though TAS is just a school, in many ways it depicts reality in terms of the different people you meet. You become more respectful of other’s thoughts and opinions and in return you are more careful with your actions and words,” said Andy Huang, a member of last year’s graduating class.