Widad Center for Child Development is a specialist centre for children of Determination between the ages of 4 and 18 years of age.
Established in 2013, Widad Center for Child Development describes itself as:
"a one-of-a-kind place where education, creativity, inclusion, and environmental responsibility come together".
The center is located in the Satwa area at the heart of traditional Dubai, and provides a comprehensive learning environment designed to challenge and support children by strengthening their cognitive, emotional, creative and intentional abilities. The team at Widad believes that children develop best when exposed to all the enriching elements of life.
The name Widad (وداد) in Arabic means love and harmony, and this sits at the heart of everything the team at the center aims to do. It is designed to be a “Home Away From Home” with programs as diverse as wood work, social responsibility, yoga and meditation, sport, and academics.
Widad is also a community of students, parents, educators, and professionals committed to the principles of environmental responsibility, social inclusion, and better education all working towards shaping the future of schooling.
The center explains its mission thus:
Widad Center is committed to the principles of social inclusion and environmental responsibility, all working towards changing education in Dubai for the betterment of society.
The Widad Center is an alternative educational program that strongly believes that all children have the ability to learn, no matter what their circumstances are. As a result, we believe it is our duty as educators to modify the way we teach in order to meet the individual needs of each child.
We believe that children develop best when exposed to all the enriching elements of life, and so it is our goal and mission to integrate and educate the diverse community in which we live, with the introduction to hands-on and experiential learning. Our aim is to bridge the gap between an academic setting and one of creativity, stimulation, independence and motivation."
The forty students at the school come from ten different nationalities with the largest nationality groups being British (15%), Pakistani (12.5%) and Indian (10%). 80% of students are male with a much smaller female contingent at 20%). All students enrolled have a People Of Determination card.
Students are predominantly high functioning but for a mixture of reasons have not been able to cope with mainstream educational settings. Each student has an IEP (Individual Education Program) which is systematically reviewed. Students are supported by 21 teachers, with a teacher:student ratio of 1:4. The average class size is 8 students (with a maximum of 10) and teachers work in teams of two following a co-teacher model.
There is a deliberate policy not to provide teaching or learning support assistants, in order to promote students' independence and to transition many with special needs back into mainstream education.
Teachers are recruited from the UAE, UK, USA, Philippines and South Africa with very low staff turnover (averaging one teacher per year) ensuring continuity for students. Teachers are all highly qualified with a minimum of a degree in Psychology or Education are well trained in the importance of teaching being heavily modified. In addition, Widad has therapists that provide Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy and Behavioural Therapy.
Widad invests around 5% of its annual budget on on-going professional development for its staff.
Widad provides a range of educational, behavioural, and skill development programs inspired by a blend of the latest research and pedagogical methodologies with the academic element of the program based on the US Common Core curriculum. The Center accepts students from the age of 4 to 18, and essentially offers a KG and Elementary program as appropriate to the student. All students have a scheduled life skills program that targets their needs and abilities.
The curriculum is also Waldorf inspired which means that the school is full of calming pastel colours and is influenced by art and nature.
The academic curriculum includes Maths, Language Art, Arts and Craft, Social Studies and PE, whilst a Life Skills component to the curriculum encompasses Food Preparation,Woodwork, personal care, grocery shopping, gardening and computer skills. Life
Skills is a subject that features in most day-to-day activities. Students are encouraged to be independent and make mistakes in a safe space. This results in a huge improvement in autonomy when it comes to life skills. It is a subject modified to suit the needs of individual students but can include grooming, toileting, administrative skills, using money and other key skills for day to day living.
Explaining the Life Skills element of the curriculum further, the Center tells WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, "Food Preparation is a vital skill for life. Our students develop their skills from start to finish in this subject. From researching the recipe, to visiting the supermarket, paying and packing their shopping and then making the meal in the kitchen. The meal is shared with their peers and teachers and the children are encouraged to practice their social skills."
Woodwork is also a firm favourite with students! The students have undertaken many projects in woodwork such as the play equipment which can be seen all around the school. Woodwork offers an opportunity for students to experience hands on learning that promotes fine and gross motor skills as well as collaboration with their peers.
Extra-curricular activities include Sports where students engage in football and basketball which represent an opportunity to socialize with their peers. Widad has also partnered with mainstream schools on projects including ‘Sports Heroes’ and Buddy Programs. Other ECAs include STEM, Yoga, aerobics, dance, and drumming.
The facilities of the center include 8 classrooms, an Occupational Therapy room, a Speech therapy room, an art room, a library, a music room, a gym, a dining room, and a woodwork shop. There are 3 interactive whiteboards, two outdoor and one indoor playground.
We asked Widad's team to summarise what makes their center so special. They told us:
"Widad is a unique educational setting in Dubai. We offer children with special needs a safe space to develop their skills holistically. We do not focus solely on academics but look to give the students a well-rounded education that promotes independence and inspires a love of learning. The fact that we are a small school means that we know all of our students and parents very well. We strive to provide a home away from home for our students, so they feel safe and supported. This allows us to work with the students to reach the next part of their educational journey whether that means transitioning back into mainstream or staying with us to continue their education."
Fees range from AED 55,000 to AED 88,000 depending on the level of support required. The center operates from 7.45am -2-30pm Sunday-Wednesday and until 12.30pm on Thursdays. The center follows a three-term academic year and offer an additional summer program.
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