** See updated info about Manor Hall at the end of the post**
As I have posted about before, my daughter, Kassandra, was attending a private school with a British curriculum here in Al Ain (AAESS). But as we finished our second academic year living in the UAE, it dawned on me – I still haven’t figured out the British grading system, I still don’t understand the IGCSE exams (in fact, I had to google it just to remember what it is called), and although she has had a few wonderful teachers, I have not been overly impressed with the method of instruction or quality of teaching she has received. Obviously this is my opinion – and others are likely to disagree. I am not trying to bad-talk the school. It is after all one of the more popular schools in the area. It just isn’t what we are used to, and it isn’t what I want for my daughter’s last years of high school. So, with this realization, it made sense to move her to a school with an American curriculum.
With this in mind, and with Kassandra’s agreement, we decided to transfer to Manor Hall International School. It is a fairly new school. It opened in 2007 and this was its first year to offer 11th and 12th grade. Right from the start, I felt a difference. The staff was extremely helpful in answering my questions about the curriculum and what would need to be done in order to move her from a British to an American curriculum. The math teacher took the time to explain to me the differences in curriculum and the potential gaps in knowledge she might encounter because of the shift. Now compare this to my experience at AAESS – when I asked the math teacher there what kind of math they would be studying, Algebra? Geometry?, his response was “Kassandra needs to learn to pat herself on the back because nobody else is going to do it for her”. Huh??? Perhaps this could be chalked up to a language barrier, but if he couldn’t answer that question for me, it was no wonder she was struggling in math.
At Manor Hall, they gave her a placement test, and it was decided that instead of her taking classes that are a grade level above as she has always done since the 6th grade (e.g. in 6th grade took 7th grade classes, in 7th grade took 8th grade classes), she would just be placed in the higher grade. This of course thrilled Kassandra to know that she would be graduating high school a year early. After getting approval from Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) for the grade jump and the shift to an American curriculum (I had to sign a paper promising not to switch her back to a British curriculum), she was officially transferred the day before the school year started.
Within the first week of classes, I knew we had made the right decision. Kassandra came home excited about her teachers and classes. She proclaimed that she has never had teachers as good as the ones that she has now. She is excelling in her classes and is even taking Honors English and math. The students also seem different. My impression is that the students at Manor Hall appear to be more focused on their studies and less focused on getting in trouble. I am sure the smaller class sizes help – there are only ~25 students in the 11th grade. Instead of coming home and telling me about the high school drama of who broke up with whom or the happenings of so-and-so when her parents were away, she comes home telling me about who got the highest grade on a chemistry test. Oh hey look at that – we understand the grading system!
There are few downsides to Manor Hall. For one, the art program isn’t nearly as good as at AAESS, which is a big disappointment for Kassandra. For another, Kassandra has to take Arabic again – I consider this a good thing, but Kassandra doesn’t. Last year she was was able to take Spanish instead of Arabic. The Arabic instruction at all schools in the UAE needs significant improvement. So regardless of the school, I doubt she would get a quality education in Arabic, but in my opinion, it is better than nothing (again, she disagrees). And finally, and this is minor, I am frustrated with the school uniform situation. It is the one area in which I feel like Manor Hall is more disorganized than AAESS. It has been a frustrating experience getting her enough uniforms in the right size. It doesn’t seem fair to expect kids to wear the required uniform every day if the school doesn’t provide them in a timely manner. **update** school uniforms are now (starting with the 2015/16 school year) being sold at Zak in the (stand alone) Lulu (Kuwaitat border). The store will hem the pants as part of the price of the uniforms.
And just like that, with this move to Manor Hall, time sped up. Because she was skipped up a grade, Kassandra will graduate in 2016.
Wait! What? Wasn’t it just yesterday that she came home from her first day of Kindergarten upset that her teacher said that monkey is “mono” in Spanish and not “chango” like her father taught her? Now she is signing up for SAT prep-classes, going to college fairs, and preparing university applications. In ten years, or rather, a blink of an eye, I went from needing to comfort my little girl by explaining language variation, to needing to be comforted by her every once in awhile as she reassures me things will be okay once she leaves for university. She’s right. Things will be okay. She is the most well-adjusted teenager I have ever met. She is smart, hard working, ambitious, mature, and has a good head on her shoulders. I know she will be just fine at university, but I am going to enjoy every last second I have with her until that happens!
**Update October 14, 2015**
Kassandra had such a positive experience last year (her first year) at Manor Hall. This year is shaping up to be the complete opposite. Around 85% of the teacher left at the end of the school year. Why there was such a high turn over was not fully explained by the administration. Perhaps it was a coincidence that a lot of teachers came up for a contract renewal all at the same time and decided not to renew. I heard rumors about a new school opening up in Fujairah that a lot of them went to. Who know. All I know is that everything is chaos this year.
It wasn’t too bad for the boys (2 in primary and 1 in secondary), but it has been a nightmare for Kassandra. She spent the first three weeks of school with an ever changing schedule because they couldn’t seem to find a math or science class for her (and a few other kids). She kept being sent from room to room, teacher to teacher. No one seemed to know what to do with her. My attempts at talking with the principal led nowhere. There is no guidance counselor, and nobody else seems to have any clue as to what credits are needed/required for graduation. Eventually they had Kassandra enroll in an online AP Chemistry class. It isn’t going well. The school hasn’t been great in finding a way for Kassandra to use the Chem lab to do the assignments required in the class. They were no help in obtaining a book. The chemistry teacher doesn’t know what the online class is about so hasn’t been any help in answering questions even though she is supposed to be Kassandra’s mentor for the class. Now the new principal seems to have disappeared(?) as she hasn’t been at school all week. Kassandra still doesn’t know if this insanely difficult class is going to count for the graduation requirements, and since the principal isn’t around to sign off on the paperwork, who knows what will happen.
If the first 6 weeks of this school year are any indication of how this year is going to turn out, I am worried. Really worried. At 36,500 dirhams (~$10,000US), plus textbooks at 3,000 dirhams (~$900US), plus all new uniforms (which we were required to buy even though we just bought new uniforms last year), I expect a certain quality of education. I have yet to see the school providing that level of education. Not to mention their communication about everything has been abysmal. This is not shaping up to be the senior year of anyone’s fantasies.