We are greeted by Principal Zara Harrington, who has led the school through not only the building of an entirely new site, but also Covid-19 school closures and the brand-new health and safety regulations that came with schools reopening. Seemingly un-phased and with all her usual infectious positivity, Mrs Harrington welcomes us with a broad smile and her hard hat and walkie-talkie ready. This is a Principal now thoroughly versed in what building a school means. She clearly is in her element tackling challenges head on.
“It’s been incredibly hard work to get this point” Mrs Harrington told our team, “but I’m so pleased that, as an educator, my input has been there right from the start. I’m sure there has been times when I have driven the builders and architects absolutely crazy… but every time I walk through a space I am thinking of how our students will get the absolute best from it. There have been times when an area has been finished very beautifully but I have looked at it and thought ‘that won’t work for our 3-year-olds. They can’t walk on that floor, or something similar! I’ve seen things that people without my teaching background might not have done. But finally we are here, and it has all been worth it”.
We enter the school via a temporary reception area which has lovely bright floor to ceiling windows and right away we see purposeful children hard at work. It’s quite incredible that the day of our visit falls on only second day in operation on the new site. The atmosphere is one of hard work and organisation, with little sign of move in boxes or unpacking! Mrs Harrington attributes the smooth transition from the old Al Quoz site to the new building to her hard working team.
“I’ve honestly not heard one person complain, not once. They’ve been setting up their new classrooms whilst running their old ones, keeping on top of Covid restrictions and offering in person and online learning all at once. I really couldn’t be more proud of what our teachers have achieved this last few months”.
As we walk through the corridors the first thing that strikes us is that whilst SBS is never going to be one of Dubai’s largest schools (eventual, all through (3-18) capacity will be around 1300 students) the clever design has created an incredible feeling of space. Corridors are really expansive shared spaces, with cleverly planned seating and break out study spaces. Throughout, Mrs Harrington and her team have chosen a muted palette of just four colours, creating an air of calm and cohesion throughout the school.
We see Foundation Stage through to Year 1 and 2 in the first few minutes of our tour. Although these classes may not be in their eventual home (it is planned that Foundation Stage will eventually reside in the still to be completed section of the school) its pupils still have great space and light, and each class has doors out onto an outdoor learning and play area. The children look happily settled and we see several classes where online learners are joining the lessons and interacting with their teachers and friends with ease.
The outdoor areas of this new school are a strength. The first thing we spot outside is a large outdoor chess set, ready for play time, and then a group of students having a socially distant PE lesson on the new astro-turf pitch. Once the schools is complete, these facilities will be complemented by rooftop courts and a clever indoor/outdoor swimming pool which will sit underneath the multi-purpose gymnasium.
The buildings currently in use will eventually be connected to the remaining phase of the school by what Mrs Harrington jokingly refers to as her ‘trip trap bridge’ (presumably inspired by the classic children’s story, Billy Goats Gruff!). The bridge will sit over a meandering water installation, a feature that anyone familiar with sister school Safa Community School will soon recognise. As we take in this area, Mrs Harrington tells us,
“We're trying to make it so that wherever a student looks out of a window, they see a tree! We’re not quite there with the planting yet, but we will get there.”
On the other side of the bridge sits the phase of the school still under construction. We don our Hard Hats and sensible shoes to explore with Mrs Harrington at the lead.
Those who enter this new area of the school will first encounter the school’s main reception and administration area.
The design has purposefully allowed for all of the functional areas of operation to reside together (admissions, accounts, bus services and more) for the convenience of parents. Through a large set of (what will be) glass doors and visitors will see a broad, open staircase around which the Foundation Stage classes will begin. Upstairs will largely be the domain of secondary students, a very purposeful combination as Mrs Harrington explained,
“Safa students are very kind. It’s a key trait in all our students, kindness. It defines our school. It’s very much about the physical space facilitating the kind of community we want SBS to be. Here, I see opportunities for the oldest students to support and guide our little-ones.”
At the top of this staircase and to the left, is a large auditorium. Mrs Harrington tells us that she still has some ‘tweaks’ to make to this space, in order to make sure it’s always put to the very best possible use for her students. “Every last bit of space, we want to make the most of. It must be functional and useful for all of our students. So…we are still adapting, still thinking as things come together.”
Mrs Harrington and her team expect to be making full use of the whole of the new SBS campus come January 2021...