Libreville, Gabon Report of what it's like to live there - 01/22/22
Personal Experiences from Libreville, Gabon
1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?
2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?
Kindergarten - First Grade (Year 1 - 2)
3. What years did you live here?
4. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?
5. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?
This is really the only English speaking school available for primary and secondary grades. There is a Montessori school in the Sabliere neighborhood that provides instruction in both English and French through first grade.
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?
Yes, the website is clear and the process is pretty painless and straightforward. Like most schools, there is an admission application fee, and there is a student test component that can really only be completed in country. The school permits rolling admissions so there was no problem to start after the school year began.
2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
COVID may have hampered this significantly because they are trying to keep extraneous people off campus. The school did have a welcome meeting and tour as well as a welcome assembly for new parents. The front office, "Reception," is quick to answer questions, though sometimes a language barrier may hamper communication somewhat. (Everyone at Reception and the teachers speak English, but sometimes as a second language.)
Administration & School Procedures:
1. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
This is a point of difficulty for American parents. Parents are not allowed to contact teachers directly. Instead, they must contact the front office (reception) and ask them to pass along the message. While this was frustrating at first, reception has been quick to pass along messages to the appropriate parties, and the teachers in Early Years and Primary have contacted me within a day to answer the questions. Students can also email their teachers themselves, so this hasn't really been the problem I anticipated.
The school struggles with communicating information in a timely fashion, however. It was typical to receive emails about events or time sensitive tasks the day before. There is a parents' WhatsApp group in which parents communicate with each other that has been helpful.
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?
Formal and sports uniforms must be purchased; they are expensive (a uniform costs about 30-40 dollars a piece for a boy for primary). After school lessons are offered and also cost extra (fencing, dance, tennis, instruments, etc). This year students are required to have a device to take to school from first grade on--in primary school this can be a laptop or tablet. I am unsure if this requirement will continue after the risk of device sharing during Covid dissipates. Students use online library programs like EPIC, so I would count on it continuing.
Academics & Resources:
1. Is there before and/or after-school daycare available? What are the costs?
There is no before school care. There are after-school clubs offered each term, but not every day. Some clubs are free, and some lessons are paid. If you are with the US embassy, a motor pool shuttle will pick your kids up early so before care won't really be needed in any case!
2. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?
The school does have a library. Older kids check out books, but my first grade son does not have that opportunity. His class generally uses an electronic library and classroom library in the room. There is a book club offered for younger students in which they can go to the library after school one day and read books.
3. What are the technology requirements for students? Do they need their own laptops/ipads? How is technology integrated into the classroom and homework?
Students from first grade and on are required to have a device to bring to school. In primary school this can be any kid-friendly tablet or laptop. All homework is assigned and submitted through an online Managebac program. The school has seamlessly gone from in-person to online schooling as the pandemic demanded, though of course this requires a lot of parent oversight in kindergarten and first grade, and I was able to switch to temporarily attend school virtually when we went on an extended trip out of Gabon. My son reads books on EPIC and accesses online materials through Managebac in the classroom. The school has online accounts for a few encyclopedia websites that my son is beginning to use to learn to research. Most work, however, is not on the computer at this young age.
4. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?
There is no computer lab. Students must bring their own devices. The school has subscriptions to a few very useful online services; I have been happy with what my online programs my son has been able to access.
5. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
There is no pool but a very large campus and gymnasium. My first grade son has PE four times a week and gets exposed to a wide variety of sports and associated skills. I have been extremely happy with the amount and content of his physical education classes. He also gets a very long playtime every day after lunch and a short one and snack time mid morning.
6. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
My son's first grade class has one teacher, a teacher's aide, and twenty two kids in the class. In kindergarten, there was a teacher, a teacher's aide, and fifteen students.
7. Are Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses available in upper grades? If this is an IB school, is the full diploma required of all students?
This is an IB school. As of recently, all students took classes as if they were getting the IB diploma. The curriculum is rigorous and the most recent graduating class had a 100% IB diploma achievement.
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?
My son was appropriately challenged in early years, and able to work into multiplication and division concepts in kindergarten.
The school has a strong focus on global issues in early years and primary, and it shows in their class schedule. About two hours of the day are spent on literacy and math, and the rest of the time is spent on unit of inquiry, art, PE, etc. Some parents wish more time was spent on the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. I have been very happy with the division of time and the way reading, writing and math concepts are integrated into the Unit of Inquiry work and specials like art.
The curriculum is British, so students will learn the British spellings and to count UK money.
9. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
Yes! My young son has a math or Unit of Inquiry homework assignment every couple of weeks and spelling practice of a few words every day. It is predictable and light. I cannot speak to older grades, though.
10. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?
It is a British school and classroom teachers and those in the front office speak English fluently. Communications to parents are all provided in English and French. At least one specials teacher in Early Years always spoke French, though.
11. What services are provided for speakers of English as a second language at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
This is a very international school and students come speaking a variety of languages. Early years (nursery, reception and kindergarten) has a strong focus on learning English. In my son's primary class, students are divided into two tracks for literacy and French class depending on if they speak French as a first language or not.
12. 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?
The school offers ECAs after school for all grades, including kindergarten. Some are free, and some are paid, and some offerings are pretty interesting and fun. Students can take a wide variety of paid or free lessons in things like tumbling, fencing, tennis, African dance, music, etc. Clubs include things like STEM and art.
The school is not big enough for a true team sports program in the secondary years. Classes are quite small at the high school level. I am also surprised there is no pool and swim instruction at the school.
Social & Emotional Well-Being:
1. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
The school is truly international, with students from a variety of countries. In my son's class everyone is integrated.
2. 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.
Bullying has been surprisingly very little of a problem for my elementary aged student, and the few instances I have heard about from my son were shut down quickly by the teachers.
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?
For early years and primary grades: A-
I have no hesitation recommending the school for other young students. My son has generally had a very positive experience at the school and enjoys going every day in spite of a long commute from our neighborhood. The campus is beautiful and extensive. The Early Years program has a lot of great ways to make learning hands on instead of all seat work. Kids spend a good amount of time moving and playing during the school day but the days still challenge my son academically.
2. Please describe some of your child's/children's highlights and challenges during their time at this school.
Highlights: PE almost every day and a long afternoon playtime, international character of the school
Challenges: morning commute time from the Sabliere neighborhood (though he enjoys that he gets to ride a shuttle with all his friends from the embassy community)
3. Please tell us anything else you think prospective parents and students should know about this school. Thanks for your contribution!
The school has been great for younger students, but historically some parents of high schoolers in the US embassy have chosen to leave their kids in the US with family to finish high school, or sent their kids to a boarding school. Families of high schoolers would want to think through options carefully.