New facilities and name change mark new phase for 52-year-old school.

By Joyce Gan

02.jpgSINGAPORE - The 52-year-old Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) Bukit Timah at Chestnut Drive will be known as CHIJ Our Lady Queen of Peace on Jun 1 when its $12 million PRIME programme is completed.

PRIME, which stands for Ministry of Education's Programme for Rebuilding and IMproving Existing Schools, will make better facilities available to help students reach their potential, and not just academically, says principal Cecilia Lim.

Right, the new school building is reaching its final stages of reconstruction, in preparation for students and staff to move back into in July 2007.

The old school building had only nine classrooms, which limited the student population to 720, and it had no special rooms. The new school will have 30 classrooms, special rooms for Mathematics and Science, CCA, Mother Tongue and Music, a big-multipurpose hall, an indoor sports hall, and a dance studio to develop students' talents in Performing and Creative Arts.

The school has to raise $600,000 toward the project cost of $12 million. The balance is funded by the MOE.

The school is presently operating from a temporary location at the former Bukit Batok Primary School at Jalan Jurong Kechil. It will return to the new Chestnut Drive premises in July 2007.

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03.jpgLeft, the old school building.

Archbishop Nicholas Chia will bless the school on Jul 6. Concerning the name change, Ms Lim says that the area has changed tremendously since the 1950s and a change in name to help develop specific characteristics in pupils was appropriate.

"Bukit Timah" signifies a location, which, in the past, was significant because the area was undeveloped and CHIJ was known for having been set up for less privileged children, Ms Lim explains. The school was founded in 1955 in response to the need for English-medium education for girls in the then-rural Bukit Timah area. It started out with 62 pupils and moved to its premises at Chestnut Drive in 1957. Known as Holy Infant Jesus Convent Bukit Timah then, it was a village school nestled in the jungle- illed expanse of hilly land known as Bukit Timah.

Ms Lim notes that two out of six CHIJ schools had adopted Our Lady as patron, thus inspiring the school to follow suit. The name "Our Lady Queen of Peace" was chosen by the IJ Board of Management. "CHIJ" will be retained to reflect the common IJ mission and branding.

Ms Lim is pleased with this choice as "Our Lady Queen of Peace" refers to Mary, the mother of Jesus, who advocates peace. "Peace is one of our Gospel and universal values and the IJ mission is grounded on such values," she says. "We hope to make peace more prominent in the lives of our students so they in turn, can bring peace to the family, community and society at large." Our Lady's role has also always been one of guiding people closer to God and Jesus Christ and the mission of CHIJ schools is to build a Christ-centred community.

About 38 percent of students at the school are Catholic, as are 18 percent of the staff, including Ms Lim. The school nurtures a Catholic environment. Prayers are said in the morning, during recess and at the end of the day; seasons of the liturgical year are observed with activities; and the Rosary is said in May and August.

Weekly catechism classes are held for Catholic students, and also for non-Catholics whose parents wish them to attend. IJ Sister Joan Tay, an ex-principal of the school, helps with these weekly classes and ministers to the students and staff.

Father Edmund Chong, chaplain of the school and parish priest at Church of St. Joseph (Bukit Timah) also helps with these Religious Education programmes. He celebrates Mass monthly and on days of obligation in the school.

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