Aldar Education’s flagship premium British school, Al Yasmina Academy, has opened the doors of its freshly finished new Foundation Stage campus this week, a moment that has been much anticipated by many Abu Dhabi families.
The FS block is the initial stage of what is planned to be a 'learning village', a very large all-through school with state-of-the-art facilities and space for the existing highly regarded school to expand beyond its current campus’s space limitations. WhichSchoolAdvisor.com paid a visit for a preview of the finished foundation stage facility before its opening.
Al Yasmina Academy opened in 2008 and has received the highest ADEK rating of ‘Outstanding’, also gaining a rating of Outstanding from British Schools Overseas (BSO). These ratings are no minor achievement, and the school has gained a strong reputation in its emirate as high quality, forward thinking can do school. The existing campus, which will cease to be in use upon the completion of the new facility’s second phase in 2024, has been operating at near capacity, with around 2000 students enrolled. The new campus, which will spread across a 180,000 m2 site, with capacity for over 3000 students, is scheduled to be ready for use two years from now.
The full 2024 campus, when complete, is set to contain facilities such as a large auditorium, specialist science labs, STEAM and Design Technology facilities, multiple swimming pools, recording studios, IT suites as well as indoor and outdoor sports courts and play spaces.
The completed FS campus, which makes up 16% of the planned finished campus, contains spacious classrooms, multiple reading nooks and indoor imaginative and creative play spaces, as well as large outdoor play spaces, with climbing frames and outdoor play equipment. Unfortunately, the planned-for dedicated early years swimming pool and sports/activities centre are not ready on time for opening, although the space for these facilities are clearly earmarked.
Mr Keith Miller, Principal at Al Yasmina Academy, provided us with a pre-opening tour. As we entered the new campus, we were struck by its size, with spacious hallways and open play spaces between classrooms with plentiful natural light flooding in. There has clearly been significant investment in this facility.
Mr Miller informed us that the FS1 (nursery) section will open with six classes, while the FS2 section will open with 14. The classrooms, he explained, are deliberately non-standard, as they will reflect the needs and interests of the children in each class (an approach our editor applauds). As classrooms were still very much ‘blank canvases’ when we visited, before teachers and children have made it their own, this child-centred approach was not yet apparent in the environment, however this is clearly a space with great potential for skilled early years educators to transform.
We were also struck by the facility’s bright décor, which is perhaps best described as “traditional” in that many early years settings have moved away from the use of bold primary colours in recent years and moved towards more neutral tones. While not to every family’s taste, it will be a breath of fresh air to many. With a sea of reggio-inspired nature-based early years settings cropping up around the UAE, this environment suggests a less image-conscious approach. Ultimately, as with any educational facility, the most important factor will be how this environment is used to support the learning and development of the children, rather than the colour of its walls.
Outdoor spaces are plentiful and largely well-shaded, although we would like to have seen more varied outdoor learning environments, given the generous space utilised. There is certainly scope for the development of these spaces to facilitate more outdoor sensory, creative and investigative learning experiences for these three, four and five-year-olds. We look forward to seeing how these spaces are utilised once staff and children settle in.
Mr Miller’s vision for the 'learning village' as a community hub is particularly noteworthy. He explained that while the new campus will be a state-of-the art education facility, he has great plans for it to provide more for its growing community. The school, he explained, will house events and clubs out of school hours, bringing families together, and ultimately engage with and benefit the school’s wider community more broadly.
There is no doubt that excitement and enthusiasm is not lacking, as you would expect on day 1 of what promises to be an exciting journey for Al Yasmina. We at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com are almost as excited as the school's leaders, itching to revisit to see how this shining new facility feels when it is 'lived-in' and adapted to meet the needs of its young occupants. Aldar's vision for this school as a 'learning village' is a truly exciting one for students, teachers and families alike, and we look forward to returning to a flourishing and very active new hub for its community.