Reykjavik, Iceland Report of what it's like to live there - 08/22/14
Personal Experiences from Reykjavik, Iceland
1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?
I am a teacher.
2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?
I taught grades 3 and 4.
3. During what years were you affiliated with this school?
4. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?
I lived in Reykjavik because my wife works for the European Union and we were posted in this wonderful country.
5. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?
I have taught for over a decade, and I wanted to continue my teaching career. Because the vast majority of Icelandic schools require teachers to be bilingual (in Icelandic and English), my choices were limited. However, I heard wonderful reports about an international school in Reykjavik, and despite having taught grades 7-12 throughout my career, there was an opening for grade 3-4.
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?
The headmistress did a wonderful job briefing teachers about new students, and I was usually briefed about why some students were admitted and others not.
2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
We had a number of new students throughout the year. We would always have productive and informative meetings with both the students and parents. My class had a number of play dates, and we made sure that our new students were always invited to these occasions.
Administration & School Procedures:
1. Describe the general climate of the grade level that you teach or your child attends:
My class had eleven students from eight nations around the world. They ranged in ability, age (7-9) and nationality. While there were certainly challenging times, as with all schools, we developed a well-nuturing community that displayed admirable degrees of curiosity, hard work and kindness. We had memorable times working with the grades below and above us on activities such as blueberry picking, maritime exploration, Halloween celebration and Icelandic culture days.
2. For the following attributes, down to the next blank box, grade your experience at the school on a scale of A (excellent) to F (unacceptable/terrible) and provide comments:<br><br>Overall fair and equitable treatment of all students and families:
The Headmistress put considerable effort into briefing teachers about individuals and stressing that all students were unique learners and should be treated as such. Our faculty was also very good in responding to family requests and scheduling meetings for the benefit of the individual student.
3. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
Because of our great student-teacher ratio, we could afford to have frequent teacher-parent meetings. In addition, the school had a very informative newsletter go out to all parents. Those parents who felt communication was not good were often the ones who neglected to read the newsletter and/or emails from specific teachers.
4. Services for gifted students who need academic challenge and students with learning difficulties:
There was often one-on-one support for students who had learning challenges. This was fantastic! However, not all support had a lot of experience in working with learning difficulties. There was always enrichment work for the gifted students and teachers did their best to challenge them. However, there could have been programming in this area.
5. Availability and variety of after-school activities for various ages:
Students were offered a number of activities such as science, language and music programs after class.
6. Maintenance of appropriately high standards for all students:
ISI always strived to reach high standards for all students. However, due to the transient nature of diplomatic families, many students were often coming in or leaving, which made it difficult to maintain a positive momentum. In addition, we shared the school building with an Icelandic school who had different educational standards and cultural expectations. While there were wonderful exchanges with the two schools, there was also some difficulty in creating an amiable atmosphere.
7. Homework assigned (quality, quantity):
This really ranged, depending on the class and level. From my feedback, my class got high quality and quantity of homework. However, I heard from other parents that some classes did not get enough homework or got too much. This is a usual story for most schools.
8. Administration-parent communication:
The administration went to great lengths to communicate to parents about school activities, achievement and expectations.
9. Teacher-student communication:
Teachers took great pride in knowing their students well and building a strong rapport. In addition, detailed reports were written twice a year about students' intellectual and emotional growth.
10. Academics, answer the following questions "yes" or "no" with an explanation if appropriate:<br><br>Are there any classes or subjects where students are not appropriately challenged?
Yes. There were a few classes that a few students were not always appropriately challenged. This happened, but infrequently.
11. Does your child receive any special-needs assistance or instruction at this school? If yes, what types? Who provides services and where:
Yes. I had five students who were special needs. We had a top-rate assistant who was trained in special-needs for my classroom, including ADH, ADHD, and aspergers.
12. Do you believe the special-needs assistance is appropriate and fills your needs? Explain:
Yes, for my classroom. My aid and I worked very hard to treat every learner as an individual and achieve their individual learning plan.
13. Does the gifted and talented program meet the needs of students? Please explain:
No. There is no specific gifted and talented program.
14. Does the school offer a wide variety of elective or non-core classes such as art, music, and drama?
15. Please describe any classes or programs that you believe are missing:
As stated, ISI could improve on supporting gifted and talented students.
16. Are there academic requirements such as trips or other activities that cost money in addition to school fees?
There are a few trips of small cost.
17. What activities do you feel are missing?
There could be a greater variety of after school sports activities.
18. Have your children participated in the activities offered? If no, please indicate why:
19. Does the school provide appropriate assistance to new students?
20. Please describe any problem areas or challenges in social interaction at the school:
As stated above, the transient nature of diplomatic families provided some challenges. Students who knew that they were leaving soon sometimes did not put as much effort into assignments or community events. In addition, with an Icelandic school sharing the building, some of the Icelanders saw ISI as "entitled" or "spoiled." This sometimes created consternation.
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?
ISI adopted a very good program called Positive Discipline, which aims to have students take the initiative to solve their problems as independent learners. Again, due to a multicultural and transient community, this program worked the vast majority of the time and kept our community relatively close.
2. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?
In relation to our school size, our librarian went to great lengths to find wonderful books for ages 4-12. Our periodicals and references were limited, but based on living in Iceland, this was true for almost all schools!
3. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?
Students had access to iPads, but because there were a select number, classes didn't always have these resources when wanted. However, teachers did a nice job communicating when IT was needed in advanced (during full faculty meetings) and hence we used our resources to the best of our ability. We did not have Smart Boards or the latest in technology, but we did have a great IT teacher who updated us on the latest updates in the IT world and we had some professional development on IT.
4. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
Our physical education teacher was phenomenal and demanded a high level of excellence from the kids. Students got to learn how to swim (at a high level), learn basketball from a professional and engage in games from around the world.
5. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
I had eleven students in my class with one teacher aid. This was a standard ratio for most classrooms.
6. 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?
ISI worked with the International Primary Curriculum program, which is the primary equivalent of an IB course.
7. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
Yes. As stated above, however, this sometimes varied depending on the specific classroom.
8. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
This is a relative question based on the number of faculty available. Due to our limited school size (population), the range of electives was relatively limited, but every teacher offered at least one elective. In addition, we had a wonderful art teacher who was passionate about her subject and a fantastic Icelandic music teacher who did a great job with the kids. Our drama department, however, needed a little more support.
9. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?
10. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
No. However, there are a number of activities that allow the gifted and talented students to shine, including IPC assignments and assemblies.
11. 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?
Social & Emotional Well-Being:
1. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
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.
There have been incidents of bullying. When these occurred, teachers, students and parents immediately met to come up with viable solutions.
1. What is the greatest strength of this school?
The community, including teacher support, care for students and for the greater ISI community.
2. Greatest challenge?
Keeping positive relations with the Icelandic school within the building.
3. Would you choose this school again? Why?
I would definitely choose it again based on how well I was supported by faculty. We felt like a family. And despite our challenges, as all schools face, we worked together to make ISI the best school possible. I have often thought of going back to ISI if my wife and I chose to return to Iceland.