This happy welcome begins our visit to a school where we find a combination of hard work and playful fun.
We began our morning at Dunecrest American School with warm welcome from Director Mr Bill Delbrugge. An American, Mr Delbrugge has an easy-going personal style, a big smile and a natural warmth to his character. His sense of fun sets the tone for the school…
We begin by asking Mr Delbrugge about the bubble machine next to his desk. Yes, we did say the bubble machine. “Oh that! Yes, sometimes I get it going in the morning and welcome the kids to school with some bubbles [his desk is two floors up from the entry, making it the perfect spot to shower the students] – it puts a smile on their face first thing and, I promise you, even the oldest kids here still love bubbles!”
Students later tells us of break times spent in highly competitive ‘Uno’ games and tournaments with “Mr Bill” (as they call him). There’s little formality here and clearly happiness and student wellbeing are to the fore.
So with these vital elements of school life in hand, what about academic rigour?
“We want our students to enjoy their time here, yes, of course. But at the same time we are unapologetically a college prep school. We aim very high for our students. We want them to get into the very best US and International colleges. So, whilst we have focussed on being a happy, ‘whole child’ school right from the start, you should know that if you come here, you are going to work… and work hard!”
Mr Delbrugge has clearly relished the opportunity to put together a hand-picked team and to create the culture of a new school. “We began as an open book”, he says, continuing that “we knew we wanted a total focus on our students – on a balance between academics, soft skills and personal values. I’m quite confident that our phenomenal teachers are achieving all of these things already”.
Mr Delbrugge later invites Mr Patrick Hould, Head of Senior School and Mrs Lisa Gibson, Head of Elementary School to join our discussion. Unusually, all three leaders began their teaching careers as music teachers. We find that as a team they are very much ‘on the same page’ with where the school is today, and with what the future holds for Dunecrest.
Mr Hould is proud of the integration of subjects at Dunecrest. “The way we do STEAM [STEAM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics] is unique. We don’t separate out these concepts at all. No subject is taught in isolation and the children are constantly working on integrated projects. What this means is that they not only learn and work through the curriculum as they should, they develop formidable presentation and communication skills too”.
The use of technology within the school is a key strength for Mrs Gibson. “Our coding and robotics are just amazing” she said. Mrs Gibson cites a recent Elementary School (Grade 2) project looking at the use of drones as pollinators as a good example of this.
“We asked the children to think about a problem: a world without bees. We were so impressed the innovative way they looked at this and with where their thinking took them. Eventually they created ‘bee drones’ and tested them through a wild flower obstacle course. They were thoroughly engaged and the project brought together every area of learning”.
Proud of setting in motion a curriculum that the team believe will create excellent results, Mrs Gibson has been tracking the current student body’s academic growth data against the KHDA Inspection Framework. “I believe that, thanks to our high quality teachers, our children are making Very Good or Outstanding progress. We know we will be more than ready when our first inspection comes!”
We spoke to three Dunecrest American School parents:
• Kristin Fucik, (children ages 11 and 9)
• Annie Water, (children ages11 and 10)
• Suzanne Makarem, (child age 16)
All three families had ‘followed’ the school’s ownership company (ESOL) from a previous school in Dubai Festival City. They felt that ESOL had created an ‘atmosphere of real trust’ and they had confidence in the group being able to create another school that would be a ‘caring community and a second home for us all’.
Suzanne felt that Dunecrest had already created a special atmosphere. “Children here are very independent. You can see that they want to learn and to have ownership over their own learning. The whole school community is just so excited about good education”.
Kristin liked the personal touches that are making her children’s school days memorable.
“Birthdays are always remembered in morning assembly, and every day starts with some words of wisdom from an author or exceptional person. During literacy week, Mr Bill wrote a story featuring several of the students by name – they loved that!
My own daughter always laughs about the time Mr Bill gave her house points for hiding in a locker during a game of hide and seek. She was worried when she was found but he thought she was being creative!”
Annie felt that the school was good value for money “I mean,” she said “look around! The facilities are amazing, it’s like coming to school in a nice hotel.”
We explore the school’s facilities in more details in the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Dunecrest American School REVIEW.
All three parents agreed that they would like to see a better range of extra-curricular activities, but feel confident that this will come as the school gets busier. At the time of our visit in March 2019, the ECA offering includes track and field, badminton, swimming, acting, origami and programming.
What would our parent panel like prospective parents to know about Dunecrest American School? “Everyone matters here and everyone has a voice. There is so much ‘light’, both physically and emotionally. This is a happy and nurturing school”.
We met a team of Grade 6 students, who helped us to tour the school, describing everything with a sense of real excitement and pride. They enjoyed pointing out little the numerous fun touches around the school, such as a plaque students had made for Mr Pat’s (Senior School Head, Mr Partick Hould) office reading “The Pat Cave”. We love it!
When compared with other schools they had attended, they loved the ‘space and freedom’ at Dunecrest. Friendships had been easy to make here, with one student saying that,
“Everyone is involved and friendly. We are a community and new students will find they fit quickly and easily. If there are ever any friendship issues, we know we can go to Mr Bill or the school counsellor. There is always someone who will listen”.
We came away from our visit to Dunecrest American School with the view that this is a school that is rapidly establishing itself as somewhere where wellbeing and happiness are a given. The teaching team have immense confidence that academic results will match up to the holistic, whole child culture. We look forward to following their progress.
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