Located in the popular Khalifa A area, close to the Raha Beach developments and the airport, GEMS American Academy externally at least, is a typical GEMS premium School. A curving front which is covered in glass from floor to roof is deceptive in terms of the size of building that lies behind it.
This is a large school with a capacity for 2,050 students, and with well over 1,900 students in the current 2018-19 academic year, it is close to capacity. Students come from a range of 94 nationalities with the leading countries represented being US, UAE, Canada, Korea and Italy. The staff are a mix of US, Canadian and UK passport holders – a total 179 teaching staff and a total staff complement of 320.
The school offers an unusual mixture of curriculum – in some ways the American in the name is a little misleading! From KG to grade 5 (Elementary School), the school follows the IB PYP curriculum. This mirrors the curriculum taught at GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi and allows for a smooth transition from this Elementary-only IB school to GAA. However, at GAA, the teaching of Maths, English and Science follows the US Common Core curriculum content, thus ensuring a smooth transition to Middle School. From grade 6, the school adjusts the focus further towards the US Common Core curriculum, but uses the methodology of the IB Middle Years Programme. Finally, in the Senior School, students follow the US High School Diploma and IB Diploma programmes. This hybrid arrangement is an interesting one – considered by staff to be the best of both worlds for such an international school. Accreditation through the International Baccalaureate Organisation for the IB programmes, NEASC for the US curriculum and the Council of International Schools ensures that standards are met across all curricula.
As would be expected with a GEMS Premium school, the building, facilities and resources are impressive. The building is an unusual shape – with a central core from which teaching and office blocks extend out in 3 sections towards the back of the building. To one side is the Sports facility which includes impressive gymnasia and additional weights and cardio rooms spread over the 3 floors of the building. Outside at the rear of the building, are 4 tennis courts, basketball courts, a double size football pitch and a beginners and 25m swimming pools. The rear of the school also incorporates 4 separate playground to cater for the different age groups of the Elementary, Middle and High schools. At the front of the building, the large open entrance leads up to the access for the 500 seater Auditorium which is spread across two floors. The only other Planetarium among the GEMS schools is located here also (GEMS World Academy in Dubai has the other). There is also a very large and popular cafeteria on the ground floor.
On the ground floor at the rear of the building, the KG and Elementary classrooms are located. All are brightly furnished, well-resourced and cheerful. On the first floor, classrooms are split by a central spine from which home/subject rooms are arranged overlooking the front and back exteriors of the building. At the centre are a range of specialist rooms including Music, Art and Drama. There is also an enormous Elementary Library which is open, bright and colourful.
The Middle and High School is located on the Second floor. Here the central rooms include 2 recording studios, 2 MAC Labs, a Black Box theatre and a range of Science Laboratories as well as another extensive Library, numerous classrooms and spacious areas for senior students to gather and study. Laptop carts are found on several corners for use in class and by students for individual study.
The school also has a very strong focus on supporting children with additional learning needs. GAA has a policy of accepting children who are academically one grade below the age appropriate level. In Elementary school, every grade as specialist teachers to assist with Learning Support and English Additional language requirements. This has grown out of the requirement by ADEC that children entering KG may not be refused on grounds of additional support needs. From grade 2, children are assessed and acceptance is not automatic. In the Secondary school, this support continues, facilitated by a School Councillor, and children will have an Individual Education Programme where required. External support for Occupation and Physical Therapy and Speech and Language are coordinated between the school and specialists. The school also has a Gifted and Talented team to work with children at the other end of the academic spectrum.
The students that we saw during our visit – from KG through to the Senior grades – seemed happy, busy and involved in their activities, attentive to staff and respectful of other students and adults around them. The only slight weak spot that we noticed was a number of Senior students who were working on laptops at various locations in the corridor. We could not ascertain whether this was because they did not have access to more usual locations to work, or whether they just preferred the relaxed environment that the corridors seem to provide!
In speaking with parents, the feedback was positive. They praised, in particular, the fact their children were happy, well-behaved and taken care of by the staff. Staff were felt to be approachable and dealt with children with an individualised approach dependent on their needs. They also challenged more able students and timetabled additional time to support students who were at both the higher and lower level of the academic spectrum. There was praise for the school’s staff-run after school activity programme which, we were told, caters to every type of child – be this sporty, artistic, academic or focussed on performing arts etc. – all of these activities are included within the school’s fees.
There is also clearly strong parental involvement within the school including the GAA Parent Association (GAAPA) and Booster Club. The GAAPA parents run the Parent Café, arrange monthly home room parent reps meetings, organise a buddy system for new parents based on nationality and also offer Mother Tongue language classes in Mandarin, Dutch and Korean – these are open to non GAA students also, monthly luncheons, dress down days and many engaging events such as Fall Festival, Winter Festival and the International Food Festival.
There is great focus within the school on ensuring that well-rounded, College prepared students leave the Academy with a sense of personal responsibility, gather all the tools and abilities they will need to thrive in the future, develop social and emotional intelligence and a sense of environmental stewardship. The school wants students “to care, commit, act, respond and engage with the global community”. For its part, the school states that “we inspire, we educate, we lead, we innovate”.
Overall, GAA offer the impression of a busy, dynamic environment, supported by a strong ethos of involvement for all students and families to as great a degree as they desire.
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This school dropped from A2 to B5 in 1 year...I think that says it all, no?
For me, the issue isn't that the school's ranking has dropped, but rather, how much it dropped. We see every year, schools will up or down a ranking slot. But to drop 3 spaces in one year? That shows there was a miscalculation by the administration of the school (and possibly by GEMS as well).
I do hope they get it together; the UAE needs more good schools that don't just offer a US curriculum, but also are more orientated towards a Western culture socially (not just Western academics). This way, parents wanting to put their kids in an American school have more options.
It says the school has grown, and there is a significant number of new staff members. GEMs will no doubt resolve the issues, but there is always a period of normalisation after such growth.
I don't know, to me it says the school seems to be run more like a corporation than a school. Good management can and should have factored in how such rapid expansion should affect the students (and if not, that SHOULD be their first priority).
I'm not saying this is a bad school. I do hear wonderful things about the faculty and facilities. And I understand that the demand for schools is increasing, and some schools are expanding to meet the demand. I am just saying, the school (and GEMS in general) should maybe realize "slow and steady wins the race", even if it is a cliche.
Personally I would agree with that Ahmed.
I have four children at GEMS AA. We are pleased with the education they received last year as well as the rigor! Yes, we will miss the staff and administrators that we respected (danx2). However, as an international educator, I know that teachers fulfill contracts and need to decide for their families the next best move. We are encouraged by meeting the new administrators and look forward to another academic year at GEMS AA....
I have had my children at GAA for three years, and have observed the quality decrease each year. This year, my son in middle school has had his schedule changed at least five times, has had teachers that barely speak English, and has had teachers send home requests for students to bring supplies from home. My child's teacher in the elementary school reports that she is lacking essential materials for her class. The root problem at GEMS is that the corporation controls the local budget, and has not allocated sufficient funds for materials and qualified teachers.
My opinion: Move your kids to ACS-AD. It is a much better school.
So why don't you move your kids? Why jeopardize your children's quality of education? Why nothing has been done till tody?
GEMS is only concerned with image. Necessary services are subcontracted. GEMS profits from these services, but takes no responsibility for the poor service provided by these monopolies (uniforms, school lunches, after school activities). The community is good in spite of the corporation, not because of it. Don't be fooled by the beautiful building. We have loved the teachers but the good ones leave as quickly as possible. The poor quality, expensive, restrictive uniforms, change every year. Despite charging the highest tuition of any school in the area you will be continually asked for money for field trips, fundraisers for the class activities etc. High achieving children are asked to complete meaningless busy work so that they don't get too far ahead of their peers.
"High achieving children are asked to complete meaningless busy work so that they don’t get too far ahead of their peers."
What do you mean?
I came to know there are different levels in many of the subjects!
Why do good faculty leave Gems?