Doha, Qatar Report of what it's like to live there - 04/03/22
Personal Experiences from Doha, Qatar
1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?
I am a current parent, and I was a teacher at the school from 1995-2001. I was also a parent-elected member of the Board of Directors from 2018-2022.
2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?
My son is a senior and will graduate in May 2022. He has attended ASD from PreK-present.
3. What years did you live here?
I have lived in Doha, Qatar since 1993.
4. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?
I have worked as an educator, first as an ESL instructor for a University of Arizona program (2 years), then I moved into ESL with K-12 populations at ASD (6 years), then to Qatar Academy (6 years), and then I transitioned into higher ed at Carnegie Mellon University where I have worked for the last 15 years.
5. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?
Yes, lots of schools to choose from. ASD is one of the oldest, best established schools, and having worked there myself, I knew it well and only wanted to send my son there. It feels very American (no uniforms, etc.).
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, I believe so.
2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
In general, it is good, I think -- with the caveat for diverse/non-white and LGBTQIA+ families (see last section below).
Administration & School Procedures:
1. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
Seems great, but it actually isn't transparent at all. There is a weekly newsletter that goes out, but, in my opinion, it isn't very user-friendly and it is sometimes hard to find the important stuff. Many parents don't read it regularly for this reason.
The school restricts access to other parents' contact info, which inhibits open communication among parents with common concerns.
The BoD hasn't held an open Board meeting in well over two years. They recently created an electronic comment box, but in my opinion, their responses are curt and don't provide any real answers to parents seeking explanations or dialogue.
The PTA is run by a lot of stay-at-home moms, and while they devote many hours to the school and run different events quite well, it can also be the case that they exclude others who don't share their sentiments/opinions, so it ends up being a bit of a tough situation. The Arab Mothers have organized a group to kind of 'unionize' themselves and that works to give them greater voice in the community, and there is now a Black Family Heritage group, but there isn't much else out there to assist with communication from parents back to the school.
There are three elected parent reps on the BOD (the other nine are appointed by the ambassador), but their contact info isn't shared so there isn't a way to reach out to them with concerns (as our rep) if you don't already know them personally).
In general, this is one major issue at ASD: if you're well connected to those in positions of power, you can get stuff done and learn critical info, but if not, it can be a struggle as a parent to find things out.
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?
There is a modest tech fee for MS/HS to cover the issuance of a laptop, and any extra curricular trips (sports, etc.) that your child takes are additional. The Week Without Walls fees for MS student are covered by tuition.
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?
Great resources. MS has three counselors, HS has five, LES/UES have one each I believe.
College prep work is good but could be improved.
I think ASD does a great job preparing students academically for university in the west, but it does not prepare them well for the social/lifestyle expectations and realities of college.
2. Is there before and/or after-school daycare available? What are the costs?
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, great resources all around. Borrowing books is easily done at all divisions of the school.
I think the school engages in some text censorship of class reads (they recently removed "Persepolis" as an all-class read because some parents complained about its critical views on the Iranian Revolution and the fact that the main character removes her hijab), but those titles are not removed from the library's general collections to the best of my knowledge.
4. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?
Yes, great resources all around.
5. What are the technology requirements for students? Do they need their own laptops/ipads? How is technology integrated into the classroom and homework?
Technology is essential so all families considering going here should have strong internet/wifi at home and a dedicated computer for students to work on after hours. MS and HS students are issued a device each year.
ASD handles technology very well, and they managed these last 2 pandemic years very well compared to other schools.
6. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
Track and field, multiple gyms, swimming pool, exercise equipment...great facilities. No tennis courts but playing fields and pools and all other recreational facilities are excellent.
7. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
School is currently over 2,200, PreK3-grade 12.
Each grade has multiple classes, T:S ratio is never more than 1:21
8. 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?
Yes, ASD offers both AP and IB courses to grades 10-11-12.
Not a full IB school; only offers DP (not PYP and MYP).
ASD is a standards-based American curriculum school.
9. 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?
Yes, rigorous curriculum and nearly all students move onto university.
If your child isn't so academically inclined, they can still do well here, but ASD caters more to those heading onto university -- so if your child is not university-bound, they might find it harder to find suitable classes of interest. There aren't any real tracks for students heading into the workforce directly or interested in trade schools, etc.
10. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
I think so, yes.
11. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
ASD has strong extra-curriculars I think, but the focus is definitely more on academic by which I mean they could expand their course offerings more in other areas (i.e., for IB science, they offer Bio, chem, physics, computer sci, but not exercise and health science or design technology -- which would appeal to a lot of kids who aren't so academically inclined).
12. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?
13. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
Students can advance to enroll in more challenging courses if they are able. No overt G&T program though.
14. What services are available for students with learning disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
Limited once you hit MS/HS. Some students do have IEPs but support is limited at best, and anything needing more than minimal accommodations can't be dealt with at ASD.
15. What services are available for students with physical disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
The school has elevators and is accessible to physically disabled students.
Only the MS and HS have more than one floor/level. Elementary building is entirely one level.
16. What services are provided for speakers of English as a second language at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
ESL support provided in elementary only.
Most second language, non-Arabic speakers reach proficiency and need only a few semesters of support.
Many locals (who lack a solid foundation in their mother tongue of Arabic) struggle to achieve solid command of English, despite having only gone to English medium schools. This seems to be mostly the result of their not integrating more with other nationalities outside of school hours (they go home and speak Arabic the rest of the day), so they don't utilize their English skills outside of school much at all.
17. 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?
Band, speech/forensics, sports, drama, arts, MUN, service clubs and organizations, NHS/NJHS, yearbook, etc.
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?
Poor. The school has been saying they're working on diversity, equity, inclusion and justice, but it certainly doesn't include LGBTQIA students. They refused to even allow a rainbow poster to remain up in the MS or HS because local students and parents complained it's against Islam.
Current families with LGBTQIA kids just tough it out or sometimes choose to leave (if their kid is transitioning) because the school (and Doha in general) will not openly support them.
2. What is the climate for children with special needs? Is there a general attitude of inclusion for children with special needs?
ASD is focused on high achieving students, so while mediocre students can do fine here, there isn't much neurodiversity or physical ability diversity in the population -- and the sense I get is that is how the school prefers it. Their school identity is wrapped up in every kid going onto college and getting multiple acceptances to big name places...not necessarily making sure that each kid finds their own path (even if that doesn't include college).
3. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
The local community tends to be very insular and there isn't much mixing with foreign residents that goes on outside of school.
Locals comprise about 15% of the student population. About 50% of the school is American.
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.
Yes, of course.
In the last 2 years the school experienced an episode of former students alleging bias and racism at the school.
ASD quickly shut down their social media account to stop the onslaught of comment, and to be fair, they seemed concerned enough that they created a committee to focus on equity, diversity, inclusion and justice. But as recent events have shown, that seems to be window dressing only and does not include all marginalized groups.
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?
I would choose it again, but I now have a more complete picture of the school, its governance and how things operate...so I'm cautious on certain points.
2. Please describe some of your child's/children's highlights and challenges during their time at this school.
My child loved their Week Without Walls experiences in middle school!
Sports and other activities tend to be viewed competitively, so a lot of times the same kids kept getting chosen for the teams, which can be frustrating.
3. Please tell us anything else you think prospective parents and students should know about this school. Thanks for your contribution!
While ASD is a top notch school, it has recently exhibited some significant areas of concern, in my opinion, that potential families should be aware of before choosing to come to ASD. They include: existing governance structures, equity/inclusion/diversity, community communication, and LGBTQIA+ -- and these are all somewhat related.
ASD has both a Board of Directors (BoD) and a Board of Trustees (BoT). The BoD consists of 12 individuals (9 appointed by the US ambassador for 6-year terms; 3 parent elected reps who serve 2-year terms between elections). The BoT consists of 8-10 individuals who apparently serve for life. The US ambassador (currently a CDA) serves on both Boards, both of which are very corporate and conservative. Among current members, only 4 Directors and only 2 Trustees are female. Currently 1/3 of the Directors and all but 2 of the Trustees are Qatari. This is disproportionate to the actual number of Qataris in the student community (15%), but seems intentional so that local Islamic cultural/religious values take priority over any perceived negative western ideas.
For the last 2 years, after a bit of a PR fiasco on Instagram, ASD has been trying to address issues of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Justice (EDIJ) across a variety of fronts. This work has mostly resulted in superficial initiatives (e.g., celebrating Black History month, revisiting the school’s mission and vision statements), while more significant changes (e.g., choosing a more representative leadership team) have yet to occur. (Starting the 22-23 AY, the school’s leadership team will include only one LatinX individual, no BIPOC, and fewer than 1/3 female members. The rest are white men.)
In spring 2022, an issue arose involving a rainbow poster that individuals hung up to express acceptance/belonging toward LGBTQIA+ students (note: the school has an existing population of students who identify as LGBTQIA+, and, in my understanding, have often encountered an inhospitable atmosphere). The school’s leadership team removed the poster as a result of complaints made by Arab/Muslim students and parents, and nothing more was said about the matter.
The incident was shared by the Director with the BoD but this process has not been transparently shared or discussed among the community.
Any families who value open dialogue and EDIJ advancement may wish to think twice about whether ASD is an appropriate placement for their kids. For me, it does not seem as if the current governance at ASD is supportive of the effort necessary to make real progress on the EDIJ front. BIPOC and diverse staff and families are much needed at ASD, but it doesn’t seem as if the school is capable of doing anything more than window dressing at the moment. And if you or anyone in your family identifies as LGBTQIA+ (or you value being a part of an inclusive school community, without exceptions), I would have to recommend taking a pass on ASD at the moment.