After months of anxiety, stress, planning and organising Dubai's new schools welcomed students and their families into their new campuses for the first time this September. WhichSchoolAdvisor.com spoke to principals of five of the school to ask how it had gone so far. The principals were Dwight School's Janecke Aarnaes, Aquila School's Wayne Housen, Riverston School's David Quick, GEMS Founders Mizhar's Nigel Cropley and Brighton College Dubai's Marco Longmore
So far things seem to have gone exceedingly well for the five, even if, on the way, staff have been locked in cupboards, and children forced to tears... because they did not want to leave!
Aquila: The first day was a great success and the children quickly made new friends and experienced some amazing learning in the class.
Dwight: The first day was like a euphoric dream. It was an incredibly emotional experience to open the doors to all our students and their parents for the very first time. Looking back it is unbelievable that we have already been in school for five weeks. Time flies when having fun!
Riverston: What a fantastic day! When you think that starting a new school is one of the biggest childhood changes, our students took to us like a duck to water. During the day, the children got to do loads of fun stuff. We had story time, getting to know you activities and adventure play to name but a few. At the end of the first week we had a celebration assembly during which every child received a certificate for an outstanding achievement during their first week. Over the month we have watched our children go from strength to strength, particularly our children of determination. We have been so impressed at the speed they have made friends here and settled in to our daily routines whilst following their individualised timetables.
Brighton: The joy of opening our doors on the first day continued throughout September as staff, pupils and parents grew to know each other and start to work together.
Founders Mizhar: The first day of school was full of energy. It was fantastic to welcome our new students and teachers into a brand new school that was fully ready to go from day one. As for our first month, it has gone very well, and we are thrilled to have such great facilities available for all in attendance. The feedback from parents has been extremely positive.
Dwight: When we look back at the pictures from our first day assemblies we can see how the students seemed curious yet a bit shy, many parents looked like they wanted to hold on to their children when they had to let them go, and the teachers met everyone with a great smile. At the end of the first day, students walked out with great smiles on their faces greeting us as they said they were looking forward to coming back tomorrow. We could read relief and satisfaction in parents’ faces. Everybody’s nervousness seemed to have been wiped away.
Riverston: Funnily enough, the least nervous were the children! We had already gone through a two-day transition period, so the children could find their classroom, meet their teacher and see where they were going to be sitting. They could also walk around the school with their class teacher and new classmates. Subsequently, on their first full day, there were no surprises for our children as we had taken away any fears or worries they may have had before starting.
Brighton: Although change and new environments can lead to apprehensions and nerves, the excitement of being part of a new and significant school within the educational landscape of Dubai, was the common emotion for all staff, pupils and parents. If nerves were felt by any they would lie on my own shoulders as Head Master, to ensure that all our ambitions and hopes are met in the year ahead. So far, so very good!
Founders Mizhar: I think there was some apprehension because staff, parents and the children wanted it to be an excellent first day. Opening or joining a new school is of course exciting, however it is natural to feel unsure prior to the start of term. GEMS Founders Al Mizhar staff, parents, students and all who have worked hard during the run up to the first day of school, want the school to become a fantastic part of the community.
Aquila: We were so pleased at how quickly the children have been able to co-operate and work together with each other as well as the staff.
Dwight: Starting up in a new building does provide its share of surprises. However, as forward thinking IB educators we are all trained to be flexible, open-minded, resilient and innovative and approach situations with wonderment and a practical and creative problem-solving approach. Surprises can provide great opportunities for pushing boundaries and finding new ways of doing things.
Riverston: The biggest surprise for us is how quickly we have all come together as one big happy family. It is lovely to see our staff joining in with the children’s play during first break. At lunchtime, we all sit together and eat together as we don’t have separate staff and children tables in our dining hall. This makes for a lovely family feel throughout our school, which is something that has happened surprisingly quickly.
Brighton: It has been surprising but equally pleasing to see how quickly our pupils have formed friendships within their class and across years within the school. Their commitment to show a Brighton College quality of kindness from day one has been a joy to see.
Aquila: We have 120 students at the moment, which we are happy about and we are pleased that we are steadily growing.
Dwight: We are very happy. We have a healthy number of students in every single class at every grade level from PreK-Grade 10.
Riverston: Yes. We are small, but it is important to put down strong roots and firm foundations to support our growth over the forthcoming months and years. We have gradually grown since opening and already one of our classes has doubled in size!
Brighton: Our model of opening FS1 – Year 9 in single form year groups has been amply fulfilled with strong teaching set numbers across all years. These are being further added to by additional pupils joining us in January.
Founders Mizhar: We are proud to have opened with more than 1500 students, which is an excellent starting figure for an inaugural term at a brand new school. It really is a credit to the GEMS Education reputation, and what the school itself has to offer.
Aquila: We have had a handful of children cry at the end of the day – as they love it so much and don’t want to go home!
We already have some very popular traditions – Tuneful Tuesdays – everybody singing before school – and whole school aerobics led by the Principal for the whole community every Thursday morning -plus family fitness sessions on the last Wednesday of the month!
Dwight: The students feel very much at home at Dwight. We are like a big family, where the individual settles in with a great sense of belonging. I had two students come up to me just to share their reflections. “This is a happy school!”, said one smiling PYP learner. ‘I have learned more math at Dwight in the past month than I did all of last year at my previous school”, a MYP student told me.
Riverston: The children have settled incredibly well and all of them are starting to make excellent progress. In particular, our children of determination have made a superb start to their life at Riverston School.
The funniest thing that has happened to date occurred last week. walking down the corridor during the lunchtime break, I noticed that the cleaner’s cupboard door was slightly open, and the light was on inside the room. Not wanting any child to accidentally walk in, I quickly closed and locked the door before turning out the light. As I walked away from the room, I heard a muffled cry of “Help!” Can you imagine my surprise on returning to the room to find that I had locked our poor cleaner in his cupboard!
Luckily it was only for a few minutes.
Founders Mizhar: The new children are settling in very well. We like to provide a school culture where students are excited to learn – one of our foundation stage students was visibly upset at the end of her first day because she didn’t want to leave.
Brighton: Overall, children have settled very well with parents regularly reporting their son and daughter’s willingness to tell them about their activities, and their day at school.
During language day the staff were reading the hungry caterpillar in different languages (French, Italian, Spanish and Chinese). The children in FS1 and 2 were given props to hold – oranges, apples, plums, strawberries – but just like the caterpillar they got hungry and... started munching. The props did not last very long!