Left to their own devices, Miss Lee Ting Hui and Miss Lee Ting Yi would have dropped out of Millennia Institute (MI) at the end of their first year.
In that year, the sisters, who are twins, passed only one subject between them.
But thanks to their basketball teacher-in-charge, Mr Ser Thien Huat, who convinced the school and their parents to let them repeat their first year, the sisters managed a remarkable turnaround.
Earlier this week, they received their A-level grades, which should be good enough to get them a place in a local university.
Ting Yi, the elder of the two by three minutes, got an A and two Bs for her H2 subjects, while Ting Hui received an A, a B and a C.
Said Ting Yi: "It was like 'Yes! Our three years of hard work finally paid off!' and we were very thankful for some of the people around us."
The twins opted to enrol in MI, which offers a three-year A-level programme - compared to the regular two years at junior colleges - because neither could get into the course they wanted to at the polytechnics after their O levels at Assumption English School.
In their first year at MI, the twins were uninterested in their subjects and had difficulty adjusting to the school.
The elder sister, who was in the science stream, told TNP: "We weren't settled yet. We also took the wrong subject combinations so we weren't interested in the subjects. It could also have been because we weren't mature enough to see the importance of studying."
They didn't do well and were retained.
Ting Hui, who was in the arts stream, said: "When we went back to school, it was kind of embarrassing."
It was then that the pair decided to leave the school to apply to a polytechnic, but they knew Mr Ser would not let them go easily.
"We submitted the withdrawal form and decided not to tell him until we left MI completely, but he found out and took the form back," said Ting Yi.
Mr Ser managed to convince them to stay on.
Said Ting Hui of Mr Ser: "I thought maybe A levels wasn't my academic path, but he said that I actually made an improvement from my promo 1 and retaining wasn't a bad thing because I could get my foundation right and start early, too."
Mr Ser knew they had potential from the start because he knew the attitudes he saw on the court could be applied to their studies.
"When they are playing basketball, they never ever give up, so I believe this kind of spirit can be easily translated to their academics," he said.
He kept his eye on them throughout their time at MI. He ensured they studied before attending trainings and even made them captains at different times to boost their confidence.
With all the support they were receiving, the sisters decided to focus on their studies. They cut out leisure time that was used to surf the Internet or watch television and added more study sessions.
Soon, they reeled in the good results. Both finished inside the top eight of their cohort during Pre-U 2 and Pre-U 3.
Said Ting Yi: "I wanted to prove those people who thought we couldn't make it wrong and also not disappoint those who believed in us. I'd rather work hard now than suffer later in life."
When the twins received their results on Monday, Mr Ser was probably the person who was beaming the most.
He said: "I am very, very proud of them because their last three years of hard work weren't wasted. They proved to everyone in the school that they can achieve. The school even invited them to speak about their experience as role models."
This article was first published on March 5, 2015.
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