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The Girl Who Paints on Walls

29 Jan 2016

  • Girl who paints on walls_1

    The sunflowers Shu Fang drew give a cheerful vibe to Mrs Yee’s office.

  • Girl who paints on walls_2

    Another piece of art that Shu Fang is working on for the school.

To motivate a student to stay in school, a principal turned her office into a canvas for the child to vent her frustrations. 

The first thing you see when stepping into the principal’s office is a mural of sunflowers across an entire wall. The office resembles a play room – there’s a Doraemon plush toy on a little chair, a delicate carousel figurine on the coffee table and lots of personal photos, students’ handicrafts and other colourful knick knacks in a little corner.

It’s Mrs Yee-Toh Gek Khiaw’s “therapy corner”, where she counsels students such as Shu Fang, who missed an entire year of curriculum time when she was in Primary 5 at Yishun Primary School. Despite the involvement of social workers from the Family Service Centre and personnel from the school’s case management team, Shu Fang refused to attend school, preferring instead to stay home with her brother and while the hours away on the computer.

Mrs Yee, who has encountered several cases of student absenteeism in her 20 years as an educator, stepped in at a time when school attendance was crucial if Shu Fang were to sit for the PSLE. “We got our counsellor from the Family Service Centre to literally drag the girl to school to meet me on the second day of school,” Mrs Yee recalls.

It was no easy task getting Shu Fang to open up – the girl wasn’t ready to talk. “I wanted to try a different approach,” Mrs Yee says. “I know that every child has a talent.”

And it was up to Mrs Yee to find out what Shu Fang was good at in order to motivate her to attend school. Shu Fang eventually revealed that she liked digital art, specifically anime – the popular Japanese-influenced art form.

Mrs Yee offered the girl one part of her office wall as a canvas for her to express herself artistically. There were no guidelines, no expectations – the only thing that Mrs Yee told Shu Fang was that she loved sunflowers.

Shu Fang turned up on the first day and started sketching on the wall. She came back on the second day and experimented with colours. She started to attend all her classes during school hours and painted in the afternoons. Shu Fang was so dedicated to the project that she completed the painting in three weeks and didn’t skip a single day of school from then on.

She made it to the Normal (Academic) stream at Orchid Park Secondary School and has shown such incredible progress that she was offered to join the Express stream in Secondary 2. Mrs Yee couldn’t have been more proud of her former charge, who now aspires to be a student leader.

Shu Fang goes back to her alma mater occasionally to continue painting on the walls of the school building. “I see a child blossom. I wanted her to be confident of herself, believe in herself all the time,” Mrs Yee says of Shu Fang’s remarkable turnaround.