Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 02/18/20

Personal Experiences from Cairo, Egypt

Cairo, Egypt 02/18/20

School Name:

Cairo American College

Background Information:

1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?


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2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?

K in 2018-2019

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3. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?


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4. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?

Yes, CAC is in Maadi where many families live and it is very convenient. It is an American curriculum and in English. There is a British School also in Maadi, though a bit farther from where families live. There is a French school as well.

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Admissions & Welcome:

1. Are the admissions and placement procedures clearly stated to prospective families, either on the school website or through other means of communication?

We applied for admission while already in Cairo (attended preschool locally). In January they did an Open House and tour. The application process was fairly extensive, but clear. We submitted paperwork (including letters/info from preschool) and then had a parent interview and then in late April our rising kindergartner had an assessment--they watched them play together and then pulled them 1:1 for assessments. It is a bit harder if you are overseas during the application, but people make it work. The website has clear steps for applying.

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2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?

First international school for us, so it is hard to compare, but I'd say it was fine but not amazing. The day before school officially started they had a new student morning with meetings for the parents and class time for the kids to meet and socialize with others in K. Not sure what they did with older kids. I do know that new high schoolers were assigned a current high schooler to be a buddy/sponsor. There were a few events early in the year for new people. I do think that some info was assumed we would know even though we'd have no idea.

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Administration & School Procedures:

1. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?

I can only speak for the elementary school level. Classroom teachers wrote a weekly blog post that included important info and a summary of learning. WhatsApp groups for grades or classes were popular, though sometimes you might get hundreds of messages in a day with people replying "thumbs up" or "smiley" to a comment. But they were my best source of info. School sent out a weekly e-newsletter. It was wordy and extensive, but I did read it weekly (many didn't). PTO had a Facebook group and several parts of school (library, booster, etc) had FB pages. There is the line between enough info and not enough and people argued on both sides. In general, I felt there was enough info. On a personal teacher level, our K teacher was always responsive to my emails. Conferences happened 3 times a year (4 for K, but not sure about other levels). We had a "meet and greet" conference in the beginning where you got to share goals, end of 1st trimester, end of 2nd trimester, and right before the end of the year there was a Kid Led Conference where they showed off what they learned. Older elementary I think did student-led 2nd trimester as well. K also did several events for parents to come in and see things. I did feel that specialists didn't communicate what was happening in class very well. They all had blogs, but very rarely updated them. Some classes, like art, I at least ended up seeing final products. Classes like Drama I have very little idea what they did in class.

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2. Aside from school fees, are there required expenses such as uniforms, laptops/tablets, musical instruments, or field trips that parents are expected to cover? What are the approximate costs?

PE Uniform--worn twice a week. It was a red t-shirt with school logo and black shorts. My 5 year old HATED the uniform. We had major battles on PE uniform day. The shorts are your typical athletic shorts, which she doesn't like and never wears. Luckily, the PE teacher told me that black leggings were fine as well. His main goal was sneakers and clothes they could move in. So she'd wear the t-shirt and her own black leggings. In the winter they don't have a winter uniform--so kids would wear black pants and often put the t-shirt over a long sleeved shirt. Field trips in elementary school were covered. K did a walking trip to date trees, and then a bus field trip to a park and to a museum. No other costs in K.

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Academics & Resources:

1. What personal or academic counseling resources are available at this school? Is there a dedicated college counselor at the school? Is he/she familiar with universities worldwide?

We didn't really use any of the counseling resources in K. I think the counselor taught some lessons in the class and they did a "moving away" meet-up for each grade with the kids moving over the summer. But we never used them otherwise.

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2. Is there before and/or after-school daycare available? What are the costs?

No. There are after school activities Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday that were free and lasted an hour. But it's unlikely you'd get in each day. We did 1 class a week for the first two trimesters. K didn't have as many options for classes. The preschool does have the option to extend to a full day (they are normally a half day).

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3. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?

Yes! The elementary library was great. Very large and extensive collection of books. Large nonfiction, picture books, and chapter book areas. Section with Arabic books and a wall of books in different languages (could range from just a few in a language to several rows in Korean). Kids starting in 1st grade could go to the library during lunch recess if they wanted. Very friendly library. Kids could bring books home each week and they also had a DVD and Playaway (audio book) collection for check out. They get new books regularly in the library and cull books yearly for an end of year book sale. The HS/MS combined library also was good sized, but I'm not sure much else.

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4. What are the technology requirements for students? Do they need their own laptops/ipads? How is technology integrated into the classroom and homework?

Elementary didn't have requirements. As we were departing they opened a new STEM lab that was really cool--robots, virtual reality, green screen for videos, a fabric/sewing/crafting area, magnets, rocks, etc. Classes would sign up to go and use it and sometimes it was open on conference days and occasional weekends for families/parents.

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5. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?

Yes, there is a computer lab. I don't know that K went a whole lot-I never heard my daughter talk about it.

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6. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?

Swimming pool, gym, work-out facilities, soccer field, track. In PE, a fall and spring unit was swimming. Kids took lessons once a week during their gym block. At the K level this was a lot of water familiarization. My daughter did learn a lot in PE and it exposed her to various sports and activities. Aside from disliking the uniform, she liked the class. The school grounds are open to families after school and on weekends to use the facilities and you'd often find kids bike riding, scootering, playing soccer, etc. I never used the gym, but it had open hours some people used.

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7. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?

The K class had 20 kids with a teacher and an aide. There were two K classes.

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8. Are students generally challenged appropriately by the curriculum? Please describe any particular strengths or weaknesses in this area. Do you have any thoughts how the curriculum is applied and implemented at this school?

I thought she had a good K year. They handled reading differentiation well--kids entered the class knowing basic words or not even knowing letter sounds and they worked with everyone. She made good reading progress and was in a guided reading group of kids at her level. Math was mostly done whole class, but halfway through the year the more advanced math students got pulled to the back of the room for the second part of math for enrichment.

I thought social studies and science was a bit weak, especially compared to the curriculum say in Virginia kindergarten. Social studies focused on Little Me in a Big School. They did learn about Egypt in their Egypt Culture class. But nothing with maps, history (aside from a little of Egypt), holidays, etc. Science they didn't even touch until 3rd trimester--they did a unit on living things and one on force and motion (pushes/pulls/etc). She liked science, but I wish they had done more of an alternating unit system throughout the year and did more science topics.

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9. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?

K did not have homework except to read the books they brought home at their level. As the year progressed, I believe some kids had handwriting practice, but we did not.

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10. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?

They had music 30 minutes 2x a week (some grades I think had 60 minutes 1x), drama 1x a week, Art 60 minutes 1x a week. She liked all the classes. Drama put on a production each year and all grades could try out. We didn't participate, but went to see Shrek, Jr and it was so well done! The kids did a great job. 5th grade were the leads. Music performed at several assemblies. The art projects that came home were nice.

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11. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?

All the teachers spoke English and I never had communication problems with any of them.

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12. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.

At the K level, they did leveled guided reading groups year-round and pulled out students for math towards the second half of the year for advanced kids. I never heard of specific gifted programs or testing for higher grades but could have just missed that.

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13. What services are available for students with learning disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.

They had a speech pathologist we really liked. She went into the K classes and interacted with all the kids at the start of the year. We then got an email asking if she could pull our daughter for more 1:1 testing. Later we got an email saying she qualified for speech and would be receiving services 2x a week. No IEP or formal paperwork. She made a lot of progress with her speech.

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14. What services are available for students with physical disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.

There is an elevator and ramps. I never saw anyone with a wheelchair or crutches, but that doesn't mean they weren't there. Buses are not physical disability friendly and have several steps.

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15. What services are provided for speakers of English as a second language at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.

They have ESOL classes

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16. What extra-curricular activities (including sports) are available at this school? Have your children participated in these activities? What activities do you feel are missing at the school?

Elementary had after school classes 4x a week that changed each trimester based on what teachers or parents wanted to offer--everything from free reading and free playground play to chess, Lego, cooking, bike riding, art, etc. The selection for K was lacking as many classes didn't want the youngest kids in them. My daughter took a cooking class one trimester that was really mostly creating sweets (I was hoping there would be more meal type foods and less desserts, but she did like it) and she did Lego one trimester (free play with Lego). Third trimester there weren't any appealing classes for her.

Tuesdays had swimming lessons at an extra cost. Drama put on plays 1-2x a year. At the elementary level I felt their offerings were fine.

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Social & Emotional Well-Being:

1. What is the climate for LGBT+ kids at this school? Are there resources they can draw upon? Does there appear to be any exclusionary behavior?

No idea. Never heard of anything specific and Egypt as a whole is very repressive to LGBT+ people. HS level might have had resources.

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2. What is the climate for children with special needs? Is there a general attitude of inclusion for children with special needs?

There did not seem to be kids with many special needs. None that were obvious from the outside at least. Aside from speech therapy, I didn't hear of anything else offered.

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3. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?

Yes, her K class was a good mix of kids--lots of Americans, but also Egyptians and Koreans (not sure of other nationalities). Several of her best friends were Egyptian. They highlighted Egyptian culture in several programs and I think she learned a lot about the culture and people. I was in the PTO and it was a mix of cultures--American, Egyptian, Hispanic, and other countries.

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4. Are there are any problems with exclusionary behavior, cliques, or bullying at this school? Please describe any problems your children may have experienced in this area.

At the K level, we didn't experience any of this. At the adult level, there was some cliques and exclusionary behavior among parents, especially among those who had been at the school a long time. It was hard to break past the "this is how we do it" belief.

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Overall Impressions:

1. What letter grade (ranging from A, excellent, to F, fail) would you assign to this school based on your overall experience? Would you choose it again?

We had an A experience. She loved her K teacher and her friends and learned a lot. I was pleased with the available resources. I'd rate my experience as a parent as a B or B+. Volunteering at the school took some effort and I was not able to be in the classroom at all as I had hoped (I don't think the school really did in-class volunteering). I did volunteer in the library and on the PTO. Sometimes getting appropriate info was difficult and I had to dig.

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2. Please describe some of your child's/children's highlights and challenges during their time at this school.

Her teacher was awesome. We really liked the House Teams they did--each kid in Elementary was put into 1 of 4 houses based on ancient Egyptian gods/goddesses. Family members were in the same house. They did house events at least monthly where they did friendly team building/competing. 5th graders acted as house captains. The older kids were GREAT with the younger ones in terms of helping, cheering on, etc. All teachers were on a house too. MS sometimes participated in the house events also. Each house had a cheer and they really worked to build connections across grades. I was impressed how often older kids said hi to my daughter and knew who she was.

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3. Please tell us anything else you think prospective parents and students should know about this school. Thanks for your contribution!

Air pollution is a big problem in Cairo in general. Morning levels in the winter could easily be in the 300-500 AQI (hazardous) level. The school monitored levels and kept kids in from recess and outdoor sports on bad air days. However, they still were outside changing classes, going to lunch, bus rides, etc. Our daughter had a mask she brought to school to wear outside when changing classes, as did a few other kids. During the 2018-2019 school year, they started addressing the issue more as parents started complaining. They were working on sealing rooms better, measuring inside levels, and were testing the difference air purifiers were making. When we left June 2019 nothing conclusive was decided, but hopefully progress is continuing.

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