The American Academy for Girls (formerly known Al Mizhar American Academy for Girls), is a unique, as the name suggests, Girls-only school, located in Al Mizhar 1, near Mirdif in Dubai. The school is owned and operated by the highly regarded Taaleem Group.
The American Academy for Girls (AAG), which changed its name from Al Mizhar American Academy (AAM) in 2020, is the only international curriculum private school in Dubai offering an education for Girls only, appealing to expat as well as to local families, for whom single gender education is more common. 95% of students are female - with boys permitted to join their siblings in pre-KG and KG only.
Owner and operator, Taaleem, is one of the most highly regarded Education Groups in the UAE, operating ADEK Outstanding-rated Raha International School in Abu Dhabi (the only full IB continuum school in the emirate which has just opened a second campus), and KHDA Outstanding-rated Dubai British School (UK curriculum), Very Good-rated Dubai British School Jumeirah Park, Uptown and Jumeira Baccalaureate schools, and Good-rated Greenfield International School (each IB curriculum).
Although AAG boasts students of 29 different nationalities, 82% are Emirati, with the balance other native Arab speakers and other expatriate nationalities - the majority of whom have Arabic as a first language. The school is keen to reach out to Indian and Pakistani Muslim families seeking a quality US curriculum school offering an all-girl environment.
The recent inclusion of “for Girls” in the school's name is a throwback to an earlier period, having previously been dropped from the name several years ago when the school started to admit younger male siblings of older female students into KG1 for KG1 and KG2 only. This was offered as a service to existing parents. The boys move on, generally to other Taaleem schools, for Grade 1 onwards.
AAG has a very clear view on the reasons behind why the school feels that an all-Girl environment is beneficial, explaining that "Whether they want to be astronauts, ambassadors, or accountants, girls need to know - not just think, but really, really know - that nothing can stand in their way. Girls' schools send that message to girls every day. Girls’ schools are a place where girls take center stage. And we think that's just where they belong".
According to the The National Coalition of Girls’ Schools;
Why all girls? Simply put, girls’ schools teach girls that there is enormous potential and power in being a girl.’
AAG has approximately 500 students - a small school by Dubai standards, particularly for one that offers an education from pre-KG to Grade 12. With class sizes of approximately 20 students and a similar average across the school (and a maximum of 26), the school has a total staff of 85, including 49 teachers. This provides a teacher:student ratio of 1:11, ensuring individual attention for the students.
The overall size of AAG means that the number of classes is relatively low, creating a close connection between staff and students. The mixed gender classes of Pre-KG, KG1 and KG2 each offer one class per grade, whilst Grade 1 has two classes, Grades 2 and 3, each one class, Grades 4 and 5, two classes each, and from Grades 6 to 12, there are three classes per grade.
The American Academy for Girls' Vision is 'Inspiring young minds for future success'.
The school's Mission statement reads:
"It is our mission to empower young women to become extraordinary thinkers, innovators and solution designers in an environment comprised of trust and encouragement. In doing so we prepare girls to have a voice for themselves and agency to make a difference in the global community".
Empowering Every Girl, Every Day
Teacher turnover has been something of a challenge for the school, with numbers of teachers leaving annually often being higher than the UAE average of 20-22% - always a concerning sign. However, with the relatively recent appointment of Principal, Dr. Lisa Johnson, it is to be expected that greater stability will ensue.
Dr. Johnson has been a Head of School in Bangkok, Thailand for 5 years. Prior to that, she had a head of school post in Vietnam, after earlier assignments in China as a classroom teacher. Her career began in America where she spent 8 years as a classroom teacher and 14 years as a head of school in an urban secondary school. Dr. Johnson holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Northeastern University, a Master's in School Administration from the University of Oklahoma, and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Northcentral University.
Dr. Johnson is supported by a Senior team of Dr. Aline El Jurdi -Vice Principal, Maha Al Halawani – Head of Arabic & Islamic, Ashley Jill Huffmon - Head of Secondary, Ashleigh Thompson - Head of Elementary, and Christina Riedy- Head of Support Services. The entire staff of the school is female and the majority comes from North America, with the exception of Arabic and Islamic studies staff. This latter element of the curriculum is a particular strength of the school.
AAG hires staff with a mixture of different of experiences. The team is recruited for a mix of members' specialties, curriculum experience and years of teaching experience.
Combined with AAG's high requirements for teaching qualifications, staff are described as 'dynamic and at the forefront of educational best practice'.
All teachers have a minimum of a Bachelor's degree in addition to a teaching qualification—Master's degrees are preferred and garner higher salary levels. During the year the school runs internal and external ongoing professional development workshops.
The American Academy for Girls is accredited by the Council for International Schools and, in line with KHDA requirements, by NEASC, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. These accreditations confirm that AAG is meeting high level, challenging standards, which are designed specifically by and for American/ International Schools and that the curriculum it delivers is in line with the State requirements.
This also ensures that the High School Diploma issued to students in Grade 12 is recognised by universities both in the US and internationally.
The curriculum is based on the Kansas State Common Core curriculum with the exception of KG, where the school is in the process of moving towards New York State standards.
AAG offers a variety of subjects/options for its students: English (including American Literature), Mathematics (including Pre-Calculus, Pre Statistics, Calculus and Statistics), Science, (Combined Science, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Honors Physics, and AP Biology, Health and Nutrition), Humanities (including American History, Middle Eastern Studies, AP World History), Arabic (for native speakers), Arabic for non natives, French, Visual and Performing Arts, Media, Computer Science, Game Design and Information Technology, and Physical Education/Health Electives. More unusual subjects include Spanish, pottery and coding courses.
The school also offers a large selection of Advanced Placement courses approved by the College Board and eligible for college credit. In addition, the school incorporates the UAE Ministry of Education subjects of Islamic/ Special Islamic Studies, Moral Education, Arabic and Social Studies in English and in Arabic.
As an Apple™ Light House School, AAG places a strong emphasis on integrating technology throughout the curriculum. Its Art is Life Fine Arts Program has as its mission to provide an environment that nurtures a life-long appreciation of the fine arts through the study of multicultural artistic perspectives.
In addition to the Academic curriculum, students are encouraged to participate in extra-curricular activities that are of interest to them, or at least one that particularly suits them. Extra-curricular and after-school activities, however, have inevitably been minimised in the current academic year due to the Covid 19 pandemic to Swimming, Football, Martial Arts, STEM club, and Mad Science.
Under normal circumstances, students are also encouraged to participate in local and overseas visits in both Europe and Asia. From 4th grade, students have the opportunity to travel to locations inside and outside of the United Arab Emirates. Over the past two years, students have travelled to Oman, England, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Singapore and Malaysia. Trips abroad and digital connections are designed to ensure AAG students are well-versed in multicultural dialogue that will allow them to have a positive impact on the world and lives of others.
AAG staff differentiate teaching in the classroom based on abilities and needs. If a student is identified with SEN, English Additional Language or Gifts and Talents, an Individual Education Programme is developed with specific and individualized strategies, extensions, accommodations and/or modifications.
An SEN team of three teachers and a further five support staff work with students who have additional learning requirements. There is no additional cost for SEN provision, unless a student requires an individual learning support assistant (ILSA). The salary of the ILSA is covered by the parents.
External tests include the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Pre-SAT exams for Grade 11 and SAT exams and Advanced Placement exams for Grade 12 students. Students achieved a 100% pass rate in relation to the High School Diploma and with 55% achieving an outstanding GPA with honor roll distinction.
A particular focus of AAG is the support and counselling that is offered to students towards American university placement. The University and Guidance counselor works with all students on university, course planning, career exploration, and goal setting. She works with students from grades 5 - 12 using a holistic approach concentrating on academics, social emotional wellness and health.
As students begin secondary school and start thinking ahead, they are encouraged to utilize the benefits of the American curriculum to explore different courses, interests, after school activities and hobbies to see where their strengths lie. According to AAG, giving students choice and input on their courses gives them the opportunity to explore their interests all while meeting requirements for graduation and university.
The school particularly keeps in mind that the endless possibilities of university can be overwhelming to both students and parents. Accordingly, students are individually guided, with support for the application process, ensuring that they have accurate information, meet proper deadlines and have a complete package to showcase in their applications.
The Counseling team also works with student to ensure that all national and international requirements for university admission and future pathways are met. Whilst the team does not believe that students should be forced into a career path at a young age, but they aim to ensure that students are prepared for all options they are considering.
The school expects that all students will go on to Tertiary education. Recent graduates have joined RIT, American University of Sharjah, New York University Abu Dhabi, University of Birmingham Dubai, City University of London (INTOcity program), Kaplan University, Penn State (world campus), American University of Dubai, Royal Holloway London, University of Manchester, Exeter University (Foundation program), Durham University (Foundation program), Mohammed Bin Rashid University, University of Leeds, Kingston University, University of Central Lancashire, University of St. Andrews, University of Sheffield, Kings College London, Zayed University/ Higher Colleges Of Technology/ Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation, King's College London, University of Calgary, and Woodbury University in the USA among others.
The school stands on a large plot and is well resourced and laid out in a modern building, very much in keeping with other Taaleem schools. While a smaller school, resources include a swimming pool, well-resourced library, computer labs, interactive white boards, art studios, music studios, science labs, mini auditorium, fitness room, gymnasium, sports field, dance studio, KG playroom, separate KG library, outdoor playground, and a canteen. The Innovation Hub and Science labs are regarded as particularly impressive facilities. The school is considered well-resourced by the KHDA.
The American Academy for Girls has been rated Good since its first inspection in 2008. To remain at Good for 10 years in a row suggests that although the school is operating at the level that the KHDA expects, and has continued to sustain and develop its provision, it has not improved sufficiently to make the step up to the next highest rating of Very Good.
Due to the Covid 19 pandemic, AAG has not been inspected since November 2018. This is unfortunate, since there is no public information to indicate the improvements that we would expect have been made in the past two years.
The last report highlights the following strengths of AAG:
In our experience, any inspection report that focuses on health and safety (this is the second year where this key performance standard has been praised in the list of strengths), and student behaviour, is almost always an indicator that the three key inter-linked performance standards of Student Achievement, Teaching and Assessment and the Curriculum are likely to be the areas that require further significant improvement.
And so it seems to be the case...
Whilst in terms of Student Achievement, the vast majority of ratings are good, only 7 of the 46 measures were rated Very Good. Middle and High school section Arabic as a first language is rated only Acceptable for progress and attainment (bearing in mind that the vast majority of students at AAG are native speakers). The same is true for Mathematics attainment in the same sections which is also rated Acceptable.
Only one rating - for Mathematics progress in the Elementary section has improved - and that from Acceptable to Good. In fact, with the exception of Personal Development in the Middle and High school sections, which improved to Very Good, these were the only improvements across the school.
To be fair, given the demands from the KHDA and its DSIB inspection teams for constant improvement, it is not that AAG has stood still; it is keeping pace with the improvement demands, but not at a pace which is enabling it to make significant steps forward, and thus improve the overall rating of the school.
Students' personal, and social development and innovation skills are rated almost entirely Very Good. As anticipated, and reflected in Students' Achievement, Teaching and assessment and the Curriculum are both rated almost entirely Good (the exception being KG assessment which is Very Good). Even Care and Support are rated only Good, though Health and Safety, including safeguarding and child protection, is rated Outstanding.
Inevitably, the to-do list revolves around the three key performance standards, together with Leadership and Management which has to establish a more coherent structure that enables all concerned to understand and promote the school's vision.
The American Academy for Girls should:
Whilst the list is short, its demands should not be underestimated. The American Academy for Girls is without doubt a good school, but it deserves to be more.
If you would like to read the full KHDA Inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do in order to understand the reasoning behind the ratings and recommendations - you will find it here.
A relatively small group of parents (71) responded to the KHDA's pre-inspection survey and expressed mixed views in regard to their experience of the American Academy for Girls. Parents who are very involved in school matters have very positive experiences. A minority of parents would like closer links with teachers, a more stable work force, and new students to be made more welcome. Parents agree that their children are happy and make good progress.
Bearing in mind that these comments were made over two years ago, and there have been significant changes in staffing at the school, we would anticipate that these concerns will have been addressed.
Some 174 Grade 6 to 9 students completed the KHDA's 2017 Well-being Census which contained some insights into areas of personal concern for students and was reflected in negative commentary, particularly in relation to the volume of homework given. Students mention going to bed late and to being tired due to long journeys to the school. However, the majority feel safe and enjoy courteous and supportive relationships with their teachers.
If you are a parent, teacher or student and would like to share your experiences with other potential members of your community, please do so by completing our survey here.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has received very limited responses to its Parent Survey. Children enjoy going to school and parents are confident in AAG's ability to meet their children's needs. They are satisfied with the level of academic performance and the feedback they receive. They would unreservedly recommend the school to other parents and believe that the fees they pay represent value for money.
For parents seeking an English-language based school that is exclusively female, following an international curriculum, the American Academy for Girls is not just the only option in Dubai and the Northern Emirates but, in our opinion, one that has a great deal to recommend it.
With a vibrant new leadership team on board, we expect to see significant improvements in terms of teaching and curriculum delivery which will most certainly have been strengthened in the past two years.
The American Academy for Girls is one of a number of schools in Dubai who will no doubt be keen to see the KHDA's DSIB inspection team once school visits return, in order to demonstrate just how much the staff and students have achieved in the intervening period.
We asked AAG what they felt made the difference at their school. This was their response:
"AAG has a community of respect and happiness for everyone. The school has a very strong community feel. We also ensure the provision of student-based learning experiences for our girls that recognizes each one of them as a unique individual. This can be seen on campus through our girls’ work and the atmosphere at the school. Our educational and counselling team is very strong and helps prepare our students for universities and life after graduation".
What about the fees?
School fees after approval for discounts from the KHDA range from AED 34,750 at pre-KG to AED 62,176 at Grade 12, putting the school top end mid range. Full details under the Fees and Admissions tab.
There is an application fee of AED 525, a registration fee payable on offer of a place which is offset against the first term's fees of AED 4,000 - payable within 10 days of the offer - and a re-registration fee for existing students of AED 2,000 to guarantee a place for the following academic year - also deductible from the first term's fees.
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