Towards the Meydan Street end of Al Quoz, in an unassuming and quiet residential area, you'll find one of the most interesting and special schools in Dubai. It's name is Clarion.
Clarion School has been rated Good in its first KHDA inspection process in 2018-19. An abbreviated version of the inspection report can be found under the Inspection report tab. An update of this review will be completed once the full reports have been published.
The story so far...
From the earliest days when Clarion was initially announced, it was clear that this was a school being developed because of the passion of its owners for progressive education, and their desire to see a one-of-a-kind building and campus to support what is a one off curriculum, based on the US common core, but with an approach unique to teaching and to the cultural context of the UAE and Dubai.
Launched in 2016, Clarion School is unique in the UAE for its progressive American curriculum which will culminate in students receiving an American High School Diploma and the option of the IB Diploma. The school is currently up to Grade 5, adding a new grade each year to become a full Pre K – Grade 12 school. Clarion delivers a programme developed in collaboration with one of the foremost US Graduate Schools of Education (Bank Street College of Education), which has been the leader in Progressive Education for over 100 years, and spearheaded by the co-author of the IB PYP framework, Dr. Paul Lieblich, who is the Executive Principal of the school.
Aligned to meet the highest tier of US standards, Clarion school offers learning that is interdisciplinary, engaging and challenging and taught by Master's Degree educated teachers. The same educational approach adopted by the top private schools in the US is used at Clarion, adapted to the UAE requirements. The school believes that the foundation skills of literacy, numeracy and science are very important for children, but not enough for them to survive and thrive in a rapidly changing world.
The school says that its Vision starts with a fundamental question: How do we prepare our children to take full advantage of life’s opportunities as collaborative, productive and responsible members of a global community? Clarion defines the answer as "developing active learners who are passionate, curious and can think critically so that they can continuously evolve, adapt and contribute in a rapidly changing world". Fundamentally, the approach is not only one of enquiry, but one of discovery. When a child asks a question, s/he is not provided with the answer; rather the teacher responds with “Good question, now, how can we find out the answer?”.
What about the curriculum?
The Clarion School Curriculum is designed to align to New York State Common Core + 15. The curriculum is also aligned to the Partnership for 21st Century Learning which ensures that critical competencies and characters traits are supported and developed. Clarion follows the ISTE Standards (International Society for Technology in Education) and the National Core Arts Standards. A strong STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) focus runs through the school. The curriculum is also compliant with local KHDA requirements including Arabic and Islamic Studies, whilst French is offered as an additional language from Pre-K.
Clarion’s unique curriculum in the UAE aims to engage children in “intentional and meaningful learning” built on a solid academic foundation. The school’s Mission is “to ignite and keep alive each child’s endless quest for discovery”. The school believes that a child with a curious mind “will forever be empowered for the possibilities of an undefined future”. Teachers are all qualified and hold a Masters’ degree in Education. Each class has two teachers who are experts in identifying a child’s interests and learning styles and then providing learning opportunities to develop each student’s individual potential.
The school has been described as a “haven for inquiring minds”. Classrooms are spacious, with access to large outdoor learning spaces, wide learning corridors with student engagement areas and organic play stations, which have been specifically created to stimulate self-driven, deep learning.
The curriculum is designed to nurture intellectual curiosity, reflection and higher order conceptual thinking through an innovative and experiential learning process. A Creativity and Innovation Program addresses the multiple intelligences, connects with the core-curriculum, is STEAM-based, and highlights the arts. The design process is embedded in the curriculum: children are expected to plan, make, and share. Student creation is at the heart of learning. Cutting-edge technologies (including Apple) and resources are used that are supported by the most current research in innovative education. The curriculum also highlights design thinking and includes a Visual Arts Program and a Music Program, along with an integrated approach to design and technology, media arts, and performance arts. All classes participate in visual art and music specials at least once per week and are involved in inquiry-based interdisciplinary projects throughout the year.
Technology is defined as any tool that advances the application of knowledge, which includes computers, paintbrushes, musical instruments, pencils, hammers, robots, and clay. All classes have an Innovation period at least once a week, where teachers and students can learn new skills and apply those skills in student-led creations in the dedicated maker space, ateliers (including a wood shop, art studio and music studio), or classroom maker spaces. Teachers are trained to integrate technology and the arts into their lessons and are coached in developing innovative curriculum; they receive at least 30 hours of training in integration throughout the year.
The Early Years curriculum focuses on social skills as well as learning through play and experimentation. Classroom teachers design ways for students to understand the design process and experiment with a variety of materials, while engaging with appropriate technology. Children regularly participate in activities such as using the woodshop for group projects, to learning basic fundamentals of computer programming through the use of programmable robots, to creating their own inventions using recycled materials.
In the Elementary years, the main philosophy is that learning is enhanced through making. Students are involved in interdisciplinary projects that provide them with the opportunities to be creators, innovators, and collaborators. Computer technology, as well as other technologies and resources, are integrated into the curriculum. Teachers and students are trained by an Innovative Learning Coordinator to utilise the arts, and other resources, such as robotics, slideshows, spreadsheets, and other data processing and presentation tools, for learning.
In addition to the core curriculum, Co-Curricular activities are held after school for students in Pre-K onwards. They are offered in five blocks of 6 weeks, which enables students to attend a greater variety of activities over the course of the year. Programs include academic, athletics, Performing and Visual arts and Community. KG activities include Dance, Gymnastics, Soccer, Lego, Art & Crafts, and Adventure playground. Grade 1-3 students can participate in Music, Art & Crafts, Soccer, Tennis, Robotics, Puzzle Club, Strategy Games, Book Club, Yoga and Gymnastics.
Plans for the Middle and High school at Clarion are advanced, with curriculum plans already in place. As students move to Middle school, there is greater complexity and depth in subject matter. Cross-curricular study as the basis of interdisciplinary learning will be maintained, but there is more time allotted to the discrete subjects to ensure meeting subject specific standards. The essential questions of an Interdisciplinary Study increase in complexity to reflect the growing influence and comfort the students have from understanding their environment, to positively affecting their environment, which is reflected in a greater range of community based activities. An additional language elective is also chosen upon entering Middle School.
During High school, the subjects will take on greater rigour as students embark on their different academic pathways including electives. The main form of learning continues to be based on discrete subject learning, but as many cross-disciplinary links as possible are maintained, to create a contextual and authentic application to learning. The selection of subject course offerings and electives will reflect the school’s emphasis on STEAM and Entrepreneurial Studies, but will be broad enough to cater to other students’ interests.
To graduate from high school, all students will be expected to successfully complete and pass a minimum of 22 credits. They will also be required to complete 80 hours of community service. Students entering Grade 11 may choose to pursue the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, in addition to an American high school diploma.
What about facilities?
There is no doubt that the Clarion campus is one of the most attractively designed in Dubai. In many ways, it is reminiscent of a mix between a large modern family home and an art gallery, surrounded by expansive outdoor space with use of many natural materials for both landscaping and play including bamboo and other South East Asian materials. Facilities also include an indoor swimming pool and a large multi-purpose gymnasium.
Find out more about the facilities and teaching at Clarion School by reading our Experience visit report here.
Oversized classrooms are open to the outdoors in the cooler months creating a large and natural learning space. The extra-wide corridors have been designed as an extension of the classroom to engage the students and illustrate to them that the whole campus is a place of learning. Extended outdoor learning spaces to wide hallways support opportunities for varied learning centres and one-to-one learning. The Clarion library is a real source of pride for the school and uses a range of multimedia opportunities to extend and promote independent learning.
The campus rests in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa with the stunning back drop of the high rise buildings on Sheikh Zayed Road, yet the school is only a short distance from Safa Park. Dubai's unique landscape, incorporating traditional Arab building styles and practices together with some of the most iconic buildings in the world, provides the perfect extended learning environment to support the rich and meaningful experiences that enhance the deep learning of children.
There is much to admire about Clarion school. It is one of only a small number that have chosen an innovative curriculum which until now (despite its long history in the USA) has not been offered in the Middle East. This is a school that was imaginatively designed, with teachers and children who seemed to really be enjoying the setting that they have been given, with up to date and modern resources and facilities, and work and activity on display which clearly underlined the academic focus of the school.
It is the delivery of the curriculum-with its truly hands-on approach which is so different. The teaching methodology may not appeal to all parents who are used to a more traditional teacher led learning environment, but may well have much appeal for those who want to see a more innovative approach to learning.
It is also a school that is clearly gaining credibility with some of the most innovative and forward-thinking organisations in the UAE. Companies including Boston Consulting Group, Pepsi, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Google, Emaar and Microsoft have approved discounts for their staff who place children at Clarion.
One enthusiastic parent, on the Facebook-based Dubai Schools Guide, in early 2019 said, “You should definitely visit Clarion school, it’s a progressive school that relies on progressive education and integrated learning, it is very different, works a lot on the kids' abilities and unique curious minds. My son is there and I couldn’t be happier, though I have to warn you, progressive education isn’t for every parent, it is flexible and mind blowing, and it needs someone up for experimenting and pushing limits. It is completely out of the box and we love it and my son adores it!”
Given the teaching model and investment in highly qualified staff, with two teachers per classroom, fees are inevitably in the premium plus range. They start at AED 43,000 in Pre-KG, rising to AED 55,000 in KG1 to AED 64,500 in KG2. Elementary school fees are AED 76,500 from Grade 1 to Grade 5. Clarion is currently accepting enrollments for Grade 6 for September 2019. Fees for Grade 6 have not yet been confirmed.
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