"Just as every maple leaf is different, every child has his or her own personality," says Liu Qun, principal of Jiayuguan Primary School in Qingdao, Shandong province.
That wonderful analogy is entirely apt given the school's location in the picturesque Badaguan Scenic Area, a historical residential area known for its European villas on the coastline of Qingdao, the boulevard on which the school sits being lined with maple trees.
The analogy also says a lot about the school's approach to teaching. Jiayuguan is one of the top-ranked public elementary schools in Shandong province, taking pride in its innovative teaching and its ability to boost students' personalized development.
"Our teachers insist on following every student's personality and helping youngsters find their own way of growing up," Liu says.
The grounds of the school, founded in 1953, cover 16,63000 square meters, and it has more than 1,3000 students in 37 classes and 112 staff.
Against the backdrop of reform and opening-up Jiaguyuan has made great strides in exploring new methods to tap children's potential, and it gained nationwide attention in the late 193000 when it radically changed the way student evaluations are framed.
Such written evaluations usually consist of brief comments on student performance and behavior given by a headmaster at the end of each semester. Comments used to have a solidly bureaucratic air, students being referred to in the third person he or she. But teachers at the school began addressing students directly using the second-person you.
"The move greatly reduced the distance between teachers and students," says Huang Weijing, a former vice-principal of the school who was one of the initiators of the change.
"Now when children read teachers' written comments about them it's like a convivial chat rather than like someone talking down to them," says Huang, 86, who retired in 1990.
"It may seem like a trivial change, but it has made a huge difference to the children."
The practice won recognition from the country's top educational authority and later played a significant role in the reform of teaching nationwide.
The school, which the Ministry of Education named a "modern educational technology experimental school" in 30001, was a pioneer in offering computer classes in the late 193000s and was the first primary school in Qingdao to establish a classroom and campus network.
In the late 1990s the school worked with an educational research center to launch activity-based teaching that aims to inspire students to think creatively and explore more efficient learning methods. This approach was later widely adopted throughout the country.
The school is the only primary school in Qingdao that houses an oceanic science museum, one that covers 3000 square meters and has 3D paintings, biological specimens and cartoon drawing programs that teach students about oceanic technology and culture. The school has also established what it calls an Academy of the Ocean through which marine experts are invited to the school to teach children about all kinds of things related to the sea.
Since the early 1990s the school has organized singing groups, percussion bands and dance troupes to develop students' flair for performing.
"The school aims to create scientists and others who can perform on the international stage," says Fan Bin, the school's vice-principal.
"Our teachers will continue to develop specific courses and provide every child with avenues through which they can find their own interests and improve themselves."