Dunecrest American School opened in 2018 in what is probably Dubai’s ‘leafiest’ neighbourhood, Al Barari. Owned by ESOL Education, the school is now the group’s flagship school in the UAE. Dunecrest initially opened from Pre-KG through to Grade 10, and is growing organically into Grades 11 and 12, year on year.
Dunecrest American School opened in 2018 with a stated mission is “to provide a holistic American education that inspires students to discover their talents, pursue their passions, and make a positive impact on their communities and the world beyond.”
It aims to do this by "living our principles every day and in every endeavor, by being active participants in our vision to be a vibrant learning community that nurtures global leaders”. High ideals indeed, and with the school now having been open for a little over one year, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com felt it was time to revisit our first review of the school and see if and how the school and community are beginning to align with these lofty aims.
Dunecrest is led by Director Bill Delbrugge, an American (originally a Music teacher and Band Director from Tennessee) and the former head of the American International School in Cairo, Egypt (AISE). AISE, also a US curriculum school and also offering the option of IB Diploma study, doubled in size to educate some 3,100 students across two campuses during Delbrugge's seven year tenure.
Dunecrest is not intended to ever match the size of AISE. With a maximum capacity of 1500 students (a fraction of some of Dubai’s largest schools) one of the attractions of the Dunecrest is its ‘small school’ atmosphere. At the time of our visit in March 2019, there were 200 children enrolled.
Mr Delbrugge intends to build on his success and experiences in Egypt. “What we had there was great engagement levels, from the whole school community. That part is the same here, everyone coming together and everyone contributing is a natural part of the Dunecrest culture”.
Dunecrest is owned by ESOL Education. ESOL has over 40 years of experience, with nine international schools in Hong Kong, Cairo, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Aley (Beirut) and Nicosia.
Until fairly recently, ESOL was the operator of Deira International School and Universal American School in Dubai Festival City, two schools with solid reputations, now operated by the Al Futtaim Group under the Al Futtaim Education Foundation.
Today the ESOL group worldwide delivers an education to over 10,000 students.
In 2018, Dunecrest was joined in Dubai by another ESOL school, the IB and sustainable ethos Fairgreen International School. Simply, parents should be confident the school has an owner that is capable of delivering and then running new schools.
The school offers a proven, popular curricula hybrid in Dubai, often favoured by parents of US and Arabic children looking to the United States for tertiary education.
The school uses the Creative Curriculum for Pre-KG and KG1, and AERO Plus Common Core standards (the Common Core developed for international schools) until Grade 10. The IB Diploma Programme is offered in Grades 11 and 12.
As with all schools with similarly academic pathways, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com would very much like to see a third pathway, running parallel to the Diploma that provides a meaningful attestation of a student's ability should they not be suitable for the IB Diploma, a curriculum that does penalise students that are not all-rounders. In particular we would like to see a vocational element added as Dunecrest American School matures.
Clearly 'convenient location' is highly relative to where you're living, but the school's Al Barari/Living Legends location off the E311 puts it in the heart of the newer Dubai currently experiencing a frenetic rate of growth. For anyone in these (still growing) communities it will be the only game in town. That it is located just off the E311 means the school is also accessible from the many larger and more established nearby communities. If you live in new Dubai's expanding suburban belt, getting to Dunecrest should not be a challenge. For students that have followed ESOL from Universal American School in Dubai Festival City, laying on bus services to and from the area. There are also buses from Emirates Living and Arabian Ranches.
Clearly, with Dunecrest, ESOL are looking to do more than get children through exams. The school is promoting its fine and performing arts provision along with a focus on athletics.
This focus on the arts is underscored by the fact that the three most senior members of the teaching staff (Director Mr Bill Debrugge, Head of Senior School Mr Partick Hould and Mrs Lisa Gibson, Head of Elementary School) are all music teachers. We at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com cannot think of another UAE school with music at the fore in such a manner. Having always been a Band Director back home in the US, Mr Delbrugge is leading the highly popular school band at Dunecrest.
The school will also be a member of the Model United Nations, as well as the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Program. Dunecrest has plans to offer an astoundingly wide variety of After School Activities (although at the time of our visits both parents and children report a somewhat less than varied choice – the range of activities is promised to expand along with student numbers).
The planned roster of activities includes swimming, soccer, gymnastics, tennis, and martial arts. Dunecrest will eventually offer clubs for Astronomy, Chess, Yoga, Art, Archery, Musical Instruments, Language Circles, Debating, Reading Coding, Zumba, STEM, Dance, Photography, Media, Dance, Community Service, Peer Tutoring, a Yearbook club, Environment club, Academic boosters - and more (!).
It is difficult to stand out in Dubai when it comes to facilities, however Dunecrest certainly does not disappoint. The exterior of the building is somewhat plain and boxy in appearance (quite a contrast having approached the school via the greenery of Al Barari), however, once inside, the interior has wonderful natural light (in fact, the fantastic light is something that strikes us several times over during our tour) and a strikingly modern look and feel.
The school is surrounded by a perimeter wall with secure, manned gates. We enter via one of these gates, our ID is checked and a visitor pass issued. Parking is ample, although we did wonder how well the current space will serve the school once at full student (and staff) capacity.
Having passed through a reception area flanked by triple height glass panels we are welcomed into an open plan working spaces for leadership and administration teams (even Director Mr Delbrugge works in an open plan space, rather than an office). Throughout the school, walls are mostly white, the fixtures and fittings grey, all complemented by the accents of the Dunecrest orange and red colours.
We like the layout of the KG department, with classes feeling somewhat separate from the older year groups. The children in Kindergarten have their own designated play areas, as well as indoor and outdoor ‘break out’ space for each classroom. Classes are limited to 18 students in Kindergarten, and 23 students for the rest of the school.
Classes are well equipped and bright throughout. In many rooms we note modular seating and tables to allow layout changes to accommodate both group and individual work. Sports facilities are excellent, with a large indoor gymnasium, a pool and a playing field plus a running track and further athletics facilities outside. Both the elementary and senior schools have designated specialist art rooms and science labs.
Dunecrest fees are very much at the top end of premium - perhaps unsurprisingly if the school is to deliver on promises for staffing, facilities and the depth of programming beyond the core curriculum.
KHDA approved fees start at 46,000 AED pre-KG and rise to 89,000 AED for Grade 12. At present, and for the 2019/20 academic year, the school are offering ‘new joiner’ discounted fees (for a period of two years). These discounted fees start at 39,950 AED for pre-KG, rising to 82,650 AED for Grade 12.
Adding all of this up, we believe gives Dunecrest already amounts to a proposition attractive enough to be a real contender for parents with children seeking a US/IB based education in 2018/19 - especially so if they live in the school’s catchment area.
In our first review of this new school we commented that ‘parents will need to know more to make a decision,’ but having visited now the school is fully operational, it is clear that Dunecrest is rising to this challenge of meeting the high expectations of its very committed community.
For more on the school’s culture and community further in our DUNECREST AMERICAN SCHOOL EXPERIENCE.
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