Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Report of what it's like to live there - 10/08/19

Personal Experiences from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia 10/08/19

Background Information:

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

I am the parent of a child who attended the school October 2016 through June 2019.

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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?

My child was in first, second, and third grade.

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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)?

We were in Jeddah on a diplomatic mission.

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

Yes, there is also the British International School as well as other international schools. The third most popular among expats seemed to be either Jeddah Prep or Jeddah Knowledge. There was also a French school and a German school.

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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?

Yes, they were when we applied.

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

I thought our welcome was very warm, especially since we arrived a month into the school year. The staff was excited to meet us and our son, and was very flexible and friendly when easing us into the new routine.

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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?

When we started, communication was primarily in the form of emails. However, during the last year we were there, the school began using SeeSaw, which I found very difficult to use, especially as there were many competing posts and it was hard to figure out what to read. Many times I lost track of homework assignments and important notices.

I also found the administration to be lacking in parent communication that last year, though that was specific to the superintendent at the time, and he has since been removed from his position.

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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?

The students were uniforms. The color-coordinated polo shirts are required and cost about $30 apiece. There are also shorts (elementary only), jackets, sweaters, hats, etc, but those are optional. Third-grade and up were required to have recent iPads at their own expense. There were also field trips though most of them weren't more than about $30 a pop.

Middle-school and high school students had more expensive, long-distance field trips. I don't know what those expenses were.

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Academics & Resources:

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

There is a daycare within the school; however, it's only for the teachers/staff and those connected to the US consulate. The school offers a free after-school program once a week to elementary students. There are also fee-based programs that are run on school grounds but are not directly run by the school.

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

There is a very good library, separated into Upper school and Elementary school sections. They constantly stock new books. Students and parents can borrow books though there are limits to how many you can take, and there are fees if they are late.

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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 third grade and up need iPads. These are used in the classroom on a daily basis for several hours at a time. My son's homework nearly always included some work on the iPad, usually via IXL or one of several reading apps.

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

There is a computer lab, and all students past third grade have email addresses via the school.

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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 are two gyms, as well a pool. There are tennis courts and a beautiful soccer/football field with a running track.

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

My son's classes were usually around 20 kids to one teacher. In first grade there was also an assistant. When my son was pulled for learning support, there were usually six to seven kids to one teacher and one assistant.

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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?

I though the curriculum was average - my son was challenged, but he has learning support, so he was always going to be challenged. I know there were parents who did not believe their children were not being challenged enough.

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

For first and second grade, it was fine.

Third grade, different story. He was getting on average an hour's worth of homework per day, half of which was on his iPad, plus another thirty minutes of reading. This is after the principal stated that she did not believe homework was essential for elementary students, and after I made numerous complaints to the teacher about the amount of homework he was receiving - which was already a lighter load than the rest of his classmates, due to his ILP. I shudder to think what they all got.

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

The school offered music, art, PE, and IT, in addition to regular classes. They also offered Arabic and Arabic culture to non-Arabic speakers, and Koran to Arabic speakers.

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

Everyone we talked to there spoke English fluently, if not as a first language. I don't know what the minimum requirement was.

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

My son was in learning support all three years. The first two years we were very pleased with the support he was given. The staff was kind, patient, and flexible. They were willing to work with our son and with us. I feel like in many ways, he was given more support at AISJ than he would have received in the US. He was happy and learning, and always excited to go to school.

In third grade, however, we were much less happy with the support he was getting. While he was still happy to go to school, we noticed that he was no longer being challenged in his pull-out sessions. In fact, he didn't seem to be advancing at all, and there was little to no effort to get him to the same level as his peers. Instead of trying to decrease his dependency on a shadow teacher (which was the original goal), his shadow teacher integrated herself more into his daily routine. When we questioned what was happening, we were either ignored or given responses that didn't answer our questions.

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

Many of the children were ESOL students. Those who speak Arabic as a first language are given extra classes in Arabic as well as the daily English routine.

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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?

Saudi isn't really kind to LGBT people as a rule. If your kid is LGBT, this isn't a great place for them.

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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?

Our son was very happy at this school. He was mostly integrated with his class, who included him in all their activities, both in and out of school. He was actually pretty popular among his classmates! We never felt like he was excluded or looked down upon by anyone.

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

At the elementary level, they are pretty well integrated. That changes the older they get - especially as the local students realize that they're making friends with expats who are eventually going to leave after 2-3 years. My son's best friend the last year was local and the farewell has been hard on him.

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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?

The first and second grade year - we would happily and enthusiastically have given the school an A.

The third grade year, however, brought on many challenges including the poor transition (in my opinion) to a new campus and our son's declining learning. We now wish we had left after two years.

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

A lot of the issues we had with the last year at AISJ were primarily caused by the move to the new campus. The school's start was delayed by three weeks in September, and another week in January. The administration was not straightforward about what was happening and when the school would open. I don't think this set a good precedent. We never really got that time back, except in drips and drabs.

This didn't affect just the students; the teachers were also supposed to be moving to new school-supplied living quarters, and so they were living out of cardboard boxes for that entire year.

That said... while the Board of Directors (none of whom have kids who attend this school by the way) remains the same, the superintendent who managed the move has since left, and they're looking for a new superintendent. And the move is done now, and the new facility really is lovely. Depending on the new hires, and which teachers elected to stay, the school could be very well organized in the future, and a really great place to be. It wasn't for us that last year, but I admit that was a singular experience, both with the move and with the third grade, and may be not applicable to future years or other grades.

Would I send my son here again? For first and second grade, it's an unequivocal yes. In a heartbeat. He loved AISJ, he still misses AISJ. It was the best place for him to be at that time. That said, third grade was very difficult and in some ways, we're still dealing with the consequences of everything that happened.

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