Dhahran, Saudi Arabia Report of what it's like to live there - 12/05/19
Personal Experiences from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
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?
KG1 and KG2; Grade 4 and 5
3. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?
4. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?
This is the school of choice for Western expats in the area. It is very much an international school, with no one nationality dominating the student population, and it follows an American curriculum. Being Saudi Arabia, it is also one of few schools in which classes aren't segregated in the upper levels. It has a more "open" and "progressive" environment than other international schools in the area, which may have a greater focus on Islamic studies. It is the school of choice for the US Consulate community.
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. Admissions is all done online through a portal, and requires scanning and uploading documents. Assessments are required once you are in-kingdom, in order to guarantee a spot. The school generally does not accept those needing exceptional learning support such as speech therapy or intensive behavior support. Admissions are very competitive. There is placement priority granted to children of the US Consulate community, as long as they don't require learning support or behavioral support/therapy.
2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
This could be improved. The Parent Teacher Group offers a limited welcome to new families, but only after school has been in session for a month. Many expats are in the their home countries through September, and many families take a while to in-process to the school, with the required documents, etc. A before-school-starts orientation would be helpful for new families but is probably not practical, given the Eid holidays and lack of expat teachers and staff in-kingdom before school begins. Joining this school as a new family requires being very proactive if you want to get involved, get to know the campus, staff, etc.
Administration & School Procedures:
1. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
Good. Google classroom and Skyward are used for communication. Some teachers use apps such as Seesaw or Class Dojo to communicate with parents and send pictures home. I have found that administration staff respond promptly to necessary emails and are eager to build a relationship with parents.
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 Uniforms for grade 4 and above. Laptops for middle school. Very few field trips on the elementary level; some local and international trips in the middle school.
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?
This school goes only to 8th grade, so does not have a college counselor. DEMS shares a campus with Dhahran High School, and I assume they have some college counseling. On the elementary/middle school level, there are 2 guidance counselors who provide in-class and personal instruction and assessment.
2. Is there before and/or after-school daycare available? What are the costs?
Only after-school activities for one hour after school. It is sometimes competitive to get a spot in the popular ones. These last for approximately 2 months and then rotate to new offerings. Currently, they are free but there is talk of charging for activities soon. No daycare except for children of staff and teachers.
3. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?
It has a large Learning Resource Center (LRC), shared with the high school and British school on the same campus. The LRC is a fantastic place, with about 7 full time staff who have a great interest in encouraging students' love of reading. There is a tech corner, a maker space and older students are able to use the library for hang out time. They have a great selection of books and add new ones throughout the year. They also organize 2 book sales a year, which is great, as Saudi Arabia has limited options for good-quality, good-priced English books. Students visit the library once a week as a class and can check out 1 to 3 books per week, depending on grade. Parents are also highly welcome to check out books. The library and its staff have been one of my favorite parts of the school!
4. What are the technology requirements for students? Do they need their own laptops/ipads? How is technology integrated into the classroom and homework?
No laptops required until grade 6. At the elementary level, students use iPads or Chromebooks in the classroom and visit the computer lab weekly. I think tech integration depends on the teacher, as some seem highly interested and others not so much. There are a variety of after-school activities which are tech oriented, such as computer animation and digital film making. There is a coding class offered in middle school. It is expected at the upper elementary levels that students will be checking their school email daily, completing presentations using Google Slides, researching online (in class), and developing basic web pages.
5. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
No swimming pool. A basic "track" on the asphalt perimeter road. 4 different gyms for the entire campus, which is shared by 3 schools. No tennis courts. 3 or 4 playground areas. Covered black top recess area. The school does a great job of using the outdoor space it has, given we are in the middle of the desert! Students in elementary can play soccer on a turf field before school and at recess. PE is twice a week at the elementary level. No tennis courts.
6. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
Up to 25 students per class. Lower grades have an assistant teacher in the classroom. Some classes are as small as 14 students, but tend to grow as the school year progresses and students are added in.
7. 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?
A few years ago, the school started an "Interventions" period of the school day. Rather than pulling students out for extra help or enrichment, the classes rotate intervention classes throughout the year to receive either extra challenge, or additional support. I feel that the curriculum is appropriately challenging as compared to US schools. Not the most rigorous, but with a good focus on well-rounded learning and inquisitiveness about the world, rather than simply looking at academics and grades.
8. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
The elementary school has a no homework policy, except for reading assignments which differ by grade level. Middle school homework assignments depend upon the teacher.
9. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
Music and art once a week at the elementary level. Drama in Middle School.
10. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?
Yes. Most teachers are from the US or Canada.
11. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
See the comments above related to interventions. There are no specific gifted and talented services.
12. What services are available for students with learning disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
Very few. The school used to have speech support which is no longer available. There are 3 teachers who are learning support focused, both for reading ability and ESL.
13. What services are available for students with physical disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
Very few. The campus is sprawling, with cobblestone walkways and stair ways in buildings. The students walk to the cafeteria (3 minutes from elementary building), the art room, music, etc, up a small hilly area. It's a beautiful campus and good for fresh air (when it's not blazing hot) but very hard to navigate if students are on crutches, etc.
14. What services are provided for speakers of English as a second language at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
Some learning support from resource teachers.
15. 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 is trying hard to improve its elementary and middle school sports offerings. In the past, these have only been as after school, non-competitive clubs. Now, they are offering badminton, volleyball, soccer and basketball for both genders as after school activities with a few tournaments a year. More extensive sports offerings in the middle school.
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?
This is Saudi Arabia, so there is no official acknowledgement or support for LGBT students.
2. What is the climate for children with special needs? Is there a general attitude of inclusion for children with special needs?
Very few students with special needs due to admissions policy.
3. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
Yes. This is one of the things I love about the school. It is truly a diverse population, with no one dominant nationality. Many dual-national students. The Saudi students who are present are often dual-nationals who have grown up in an international environment. My kids have friends from all over the world: Korea, Indonesia, Palestine, Saudi, the UK, South Africa......
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.
Not that I am aware of in elementary school. I think there is a bit in the middle school, but nothing out of normal middle school behavior. The school does a great job of trying to educate students about its core values (Compassion, Integrity, etc) and encouraging them to exercise these in school life. I think they take bullying seriously. So many families work very hard to get a spot for their students in the school----I think many would hesitate to jeopardize their placement due to poor student behavior. I think many families place a high value on good school behavior and academics here.
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?
A. We love this school and wish we could stay longer! It is truly a hidden gem in the expat circles in the Middle East.
2. Please tell us anything else you think prospective parents and students should know about this school. Thanks for your contribution!
The school is currently building a new campus located about 30 minutes outside the city. It is scheduled to be completed by summer 2021. The feel of the school and environment could change quite a bit after the school move. It may also change the student population, as it will be MUCH farther away and many expat families might find the commute to be too far.