The Arbor School is a new school which opened in Al Furjan in September 2018. The British Curriculum School has a particular focus on ecological awareness, responsibility and sustainability.
The story so far...
The Arbor School is a premium all-through school located to the south of Dubai, designed to serve families in Al Furjan, Discovery Gardens, and Jebel Ali Village and within easy reach of Jumeirah Village Triangle, Green Community, Dubai Sports City and the International Media Production Zone, and Dubai Marina. In addition to the UK curriculum, the school bases its teaching on the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) in Primary school, and will offer the usual core subjects within the UK curriculum as the school grows to Secondary, leading to GCSE and A Level examinations.
The Arbor School is the first in Dubai with a core curriculum focused around ecological education and sustainability, providing its students with "opportunities to plan, collaborate, reflect and make meaningful changes to the world around them."
The school's mission states that "The Arbor School provides a positive, caring and compassionate school environment, in which learners can shine in many different ways. Arbor students shall become innovative and capable leaders, with a strong set of ethical values, anchored by a deep sense of environmental justice and sustainability".
The school has identified five main differentiators that they believe sets the school apart from other schools in Dubai.
The Arbor School has both a scientist and artist in residence, "who will inspire the whole school community to think and act differently, facilitating their engagement with environmental projects both locally and globally." This initiative is designed to provide students will real-world access to professional artists and scientists, so that they can learn more about opportunities in these fields and the skills needed to develop in these professions.
The school aims to equip students with the concrete skills necessary to take ideas into action through an experiential, project-based approach to learning and a mind-set of experimentation and free-inquiry. This is completed through the adoption of a curriculum chosen to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goals as outlined by the United Nations in 2015 and is enhanced by use of bespoke biodomes, learning gardens and experiential programmes.
What about the curriculum?
The Arbor School follows the UK curriculum Early Years Foundation Stage, followed by a combination of the UK National Curriculum and the International Primary Curriculum from years 1 to 6, and will offer the UK National Curriculum for Secondary School (Year 7 opens in 2019), leading to GCSE and A Levels.
The curriculum offered at the Arbor School is "an essential response to changes in the nature of schooling, as well as changes in society and the environment. The school will therefore identify themes and real-life topics of interest that provide meaningful contexts, allowing for project-based, cross-curricular topic approaches in which independent learning flourishes".
Over the two years of the Foundation Stage, Nursery and Reception children gradually develop the basic skills, developing reading and writing through a series of progressive activities, including stroke making, learning the alphabet and phonics work. Children also learn basic numeracy skills and to perform simple addition and subtraction problems by the end of the stage. They look at the wider world and try to understand how and why things happen. The Arbor School places strong emphasis on experiential and outdoor learning and a love of nature. Students also have the chance to explore and experiment with art, music and other creative pursuits.
Learning outcomes within the Primary School are delivered through a combination of the UK National Curriculum and the International Primary Curriculum (which ensures that all students are taught the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals), with specific focus placed upon literacy and numeracy. The curriculum is enriched through specialist lessons for languages and creative subjects, highlighted by a core commitment to experiential learning and participation within the ‘Artists and Scientists in Residence’ programme.
The curriculum is theme-based, and focuses upon elements of the Arts and Humanities which are also delivered through project-based learning, focusing upon issues as diverse as fair trade, access to education, alternative energy sources and gender equality.
In Years 7 to 9, students will follow a range of subjects in which they will improve their academic, creative, social, interpersonal and sporting skills. In each subject, courses are structured to ensure increasing, progressive challenge in preparation for GCSE courses in Years 10 and 11. Long-term planning within each year and throughout Key Stage 3, allows skills to be revisited, strengthened and developed further.
In all subjects, learning frameworks within each unit of work provide sequential assessment activities. After completion of tasks, students are provided with regular and precise formative guidance so that they learn how to improve in preparation for subsequent tasks. At each stage of assessment, students are provided with tasks that ensure that they reflect upon their work and engage with targets set.
The Key Stage 5 (Sixth Form) curriculum will include a wide range of academic pathways, with an opportunity to also engage in technical and vocational subjects. By being able to provide a wide choice of options, in combination with a rigorous A-Level programme, students at the Arbor School will be well prepared for life and further study at the end of Year 13.
Whilst the curriculum design, and the involvement of staff not usually seen in schools in the UAE may be different, the Arbor team's expectations of its students is perhaps more conventional, and certainly challenging.
The school's Promise states that "Students at Arbor are expected to demonstrate hard work and effort in all that they do. They are proactive in their learning, resilient when faced with a challenge and collaborative in solving problems. Arbor students are exceptionally caring, with an acute sense of compassion for others. Students at Arbor are expected to demonstrate hard work and effort in all that they do. They are passionate about the world around us and act with integrity and ingenuity when striving for a sustainable future".
What about the facilities?
The Arbor School provides a very high standard of physical facilities consistent with its educational aspirations on a campus area of 30,000 m2. The building includes three big climate-controlled biodomes and three small ones, and atria and learning gardens in which students can regularly interact with soils, flora and fauna as a fundamental part of their educational experience.
Facilities also include specialised science laboratories, art rooms, an auditorium and associated black box, libraries, canteen areas, film photography rooms and vocational workshops. In addition to these, sports are also well resourced and include a FIFA compliant soccer pitch, multi-purpose hall for indoor sports, a variety of outdoor courts and a specially designed swimming pool.
Founding Principal, Mr. Charles Grayhurst, explained that the Arbor School team will leverage their experience to create an engaging environment that will ensure the best in terms of individual student progress and growth. “Through project based learning and an extensive focus on building student awareness of ecological and environmental mindfulness, the Arbor School is truly unique. We believe that our approach will empower students and sharpen their critical thinking skills by raising their awareness and understanding of the world around them, whilst encouraging them to seek solutions that instigate change.”
Who are The Arbor School's Leaders?
Mr. Grayhurst is specialised in founding international schools, having held headships and a variety of leadership positions in China, Malaysia, Qatar and Vietnam. He is supported by Head of Primary, Mr. Trevor Mardsen who brings more than 16 years of expertise in teaching and leadership, working in schools in the UK, Italy, and Nigeria.
Given the school’s very specific focus on the environment and sustainability, it has also brought some serious hitters to the team. Director of Education for Sustainability, Emily Bretl’s role is to ensure that the strong ecological ethos of the Arbor School is fully embedded into the curriculum, with themes of eco-literacy, sustainability and environmental justice incorporated into every lesson and every task. Ms. Bretl brings experience as an environmental scientist, classroom science and math teacher, curriculum designer, and teaching coach in science and sustainability.
Further strengthening efforts to create a fully inclusive environment for all students at Arbor is the Director of Personalised Learning, Merushka Hansraj. Her experience in education spans 20 years and her specialisation in learning difficulties and disabilities will ensure that every student at Arbor has a tailored pathway based on his or her unique learning styles.
Supporting the personalised learning approach is the Director of Inclusion, Rachel Smith-Green, who is responsible for managing the processes to identify gifted students as well as those with additional education and language requirements. She has worked with students with conditions such as autism, Downs syndrome, ADHD and emotional behavioural difficulties. In 2014, she co-established the Dubai Inclusion Network (formerly Dubai SEN Network), reaching out to over a thousand teaching and medical professionals across the UAE, and developing training opportunities and mentoring programmes for SEND professionals across Dubai.
The remaining key appointment is an Artist-in-Residence, whose mission is to bring awareness to both students and educators about the urgency of exploring sustainability with the view that both nature and arts are healing and restorative, and that they are in many ways complimentary. The Artist in Residence works closely with the academic team at Arbor “to inspire children to find a dialogue between the human-made world and the natural environment, through ecological literacy and creative project based learning.”
As the school's website states:
Ecological and environmental concerns are particularly important in the context of the UAE’s rapid development and expansion and these are expressed in unique ways. The Gulf region is one of the most exciting worldwide in terms of the sustainability and conservation challenges that it faces. We emphasise the local and regional context of our school’s ecological and environmental ethos by focusing on issues affecting our environment. By active engagement with local and regional environmental organisations and initiatives, we encourage students to reflect on issues of sustainability, environmental impact and ethics as they affect societies in the Gulf and around the world.
Whilst the students of The Arbor School alone will likely not be able to meet the challenges facing the globe in the context of ecological and environmental issues and its sustainable development, they are certainly likely to be rather better prepared to do so than the majority of students in education today.
Approved KHDA fees for the Arbor School start at AED 56,000 for FS1 and rise to AED 95,000 for Year 13, although the opening will run through Year 6 with each new year opening organically.
Founders' fees, to attract families joining the school in its first year, are generous. They will be valid over a 3 year period, with a 50% discount in September 2018, and a 25% discount on the approved fees for the following two years (in 2019-20 and 2020-21).
FS1 fees for September 2018 are therefore reduced to AED 28,000 instead of AED 56,000, with the second year's (FS2) fees being AED 42,000 (again instead of AED 56,000) whilst Year 1 fees in 2020-21 would be AED 48,750 instead of the approved fee of AED 65,000.
For students joining the school in September 2019, there are varying rates of reduction from FS1 to Year 7. Fees start at AED 44,800 in FS1 (a 20% reduction on the KHDA approved fees), rising to AED 68,000 in Year 7. Full details can be found under the fees and availability tab.
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