Gaborone, Botswana Report of what it's like to live there - 08/06/15

Personal Experiences from Gaborone, Botswana

Gaborone, Botswana 08/06/15

Background Information:

1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?

I am a teacher at Westwood. I am also a parent of children in the primary school.

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2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?

Year 3 and 5.

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3. During what years were you affiliated with this school?

2013 - Present

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4. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?

I follow my wife's career and she got a job here. I follow and teach wherever we go.

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5. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?

There are few options. The other international (IB) school with decent reviews was full and I got a job here, so we wanted to keep the kids close where I can keep and eye on what is happening with their schooling.

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Admissions & Welcome:

1. Are the admissions and placement procedures clearly stated to prospective families, either on the school website or through other means of communication?

They have been good about placing most students that apply if I am not mistaken. There is no entrance examination. We educate everyone. This also means that our graduation performance is less consistent because we don't filter out struggling students or those with learning disabilities.

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2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?

Our new student/family orientation is not our strong point. Some friends suffered very long wait times to for responses to about incoming admissions. The schedules are rather irregular and require a lot of planning as you adjust to what to expect. Short Fridays, after school activities that begin after two weeks of the term, field trips, and sporting events that all change. I think the newsletter has improved this.

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Administration & School Procedures:

1. Describe the general climate of the grade level that you teach or your child attends:

This is the most diverse school I have ever taught at. According to our most recent language survey, there are 35 mother tongues. Roughly half the students have a non-English mother tongue. As a biracial family, I love Westwood and the diversity that is the norm here. My teaching colleagues are from all over: American, New Zealand, DRC, Zambia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Batswana, Kenya, Cuba, France. . . I'm sure I have left some out. I just watched a PYP summative assessment performance in the theater where my daughter wrote a play, got a caste of her peers and they performed it live. This concluded their unit on storytelling. There is some great work going on in classes. Critiques from my community here and myself include some weaknesses in Math instruction, and occasionally old-school shouting or shaming teaching methods. They are not the norm, but they crop up at times. I think that Westwood has come a long way from the Botswana norm of 1950s-era British pedagogy to an IB system that tries to support the whole child. At times they probably accommodate too much and swing toward the enabling end of the spectrum. That said, they do make honest efforts to find the right balance. Conversations are ongoing and parental responses will differ significantly over this point.

My secondary students are generally very polite and hard working, but don't have good time management habits. They call me "sir." They wear uniforms. In the year's I've been here the graduation rates have been high (80-100%) with IB Diplomas. We have had some recent turnover in the high school and we are currently without a permanent Head of School. I can't predict which way things will go, but I hear negotiations with a new Head are looking promising. This will be critical to any sort of continuity if you are considering coming with a secondary student that will need their IB Diploma to move to a foreign university.

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2. For the following attributes, down to the next blank box, grade your experience at the school on a scale of A (excellent) to F (unacceptable/terrible) and provide comments:<br><br>Overall fair and equitable treatment of all students and families:

I find it a great place for racial diversity. Special needs support is limited. Language support I think is OK, but my students are all speaking English well. I have heard some complaints from parents that believed their child was not treated well. I believe this has to do either with the "old-school" element of the culture which we have not completely emerged from yet, or from the fact there are special needs that are not well-addressed in our context. This observation is speculative.

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3. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?

We do get criticism about this. I would go back to the consistency issues. Good staff are doing a great job with this.

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4. Services for gifted students who need academic challenge and students with learning difficulties:

We have a two learning support teachers for primary and secondary. They can support mild learning support needs.

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5. Aside from school fees, are there required expenses such as uniforms, laptops/tablets, musical instruments, or field trips that parents are expected to cover? What are the approximate costs?

School uniforms cost a bit, but are reasonable in my opinion. Laptops are not currently required, but for DP students is highly recommended.

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6. Availability and variety of after-school activities for various ages:

There are a wide variety of activities and their quality is equally varied. My son loves the soccer. I just led an inter-school track and field trip to the national stadium for the primary team to compete against the best in the region.

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7. Maintenance of appropriately high standards for all students:

The biggest criticism of Westwood has been a high turnover of Heads of School. It has meant a great deal of transition and turnover. Consistency has been one casualty. We work to keep things running the best we can, but we end up with staffing gaps and limited oversight. Good teachers are doing great things. There is a broad spectrum of performance. Despite this, we have managed strong results in our DP examinations and graduating classes. This is testimony to the hard work of dedicated teachers. I hope to see consistent leadership soon.

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8. Homework assigned (quality, quantity):

Homework is assigned most days. I have been frustrated some days with the work assigned as either busy work that seems to add little to the learning, or occasionally impossible work about topics not covered in class. Overall, I think the homework my kids do is OK.

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9. Administration-parent communication:

We started a newsletter a bit over a year ago that has improved this. They SMS and email as well for big events.

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10. Teacher-student communication:

I think this is good with my children. I'd like to think I communicate well with my students.

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11. Academics, answer the following questions "yes" or "no" with an explanation if appropriate:<br><br>Are there any classes or subjects where students are not appropriately challenged?

We supplement math work with our kids.

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12. Does your child receive any special-needs assistance or instruction at this school? If yes, what types? Who provides services and where:

No.

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13. Does the school offer a wide variety of elective or non-core classes such as art, music, and drama?

See previous question on art, music, drama

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14. Please describe any classes or programs that you believe are missing:

We are phasing out the Computer programming due to limited interest and budget. We can't afford to run more than three Group 3 subjects which it competes with in the IBDP framework since a graduating class has about 22 students. It would drop the average class size below 8 students.

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15. Are there academic requirements such as trips or other activities that cost money in addition to school fees?

These are low costs compared to similar schools.

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16. Have your children participated in the activities offered? If no, please indicate why:

Yes. Most days of the week they do since school ends early due to our early start.

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17. Does the school provide appropriate assistance to new students?

I believe that the new student orientation has improved some since we entered. We had a lot of questions when we first started.

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Academics & Resources:

1. What personal or academic counseling resources are available at this school? Is there a dedicated college counselor at the school? Is he/she familiar with universities worldwide?

We have two counselors (primary, secondary). Career advising was criticized by one American family I know with secondary kids.

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2. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?

We do have fiction and non-fiction. My kids are avid readers and they continually find new treasures in the children's book shelves. I am not thrilled with the selection of non-fiction in my subjects but am working to improve this.

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3. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?

We do have a wireless campus with Smartboards in every classroom. We have two computer labs and we have many plans to expand these facilities. Internet has improved in recent years, but is still a limiting factor anywhere in the country. We are trying to get laptop carts and we are trying to make sure teachers know how to take advantage of the technology available to them.

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4. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?

We offer regular PE classes on two fields including soccer, cricket, netball, track, swimming (we have a decent 25 meter pool that is warm 7 months a year. We do inter-school sporting competitions with schools in Gaborone with occasional trips to regional events.

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5. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?

Class size maximums are 25 students (I have heard of rare exceptions). In the secondary the average is closer to 16. It is a selling point of the this school.

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6. Are Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses available in upper grades? If this is an IB school, is the full diploma required of all students?

We are fully accredited by CIS, NEASC, and are an IB World School (PYP, MYP, DP). I don't know of any more rigorous accreditation standards that exist.

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7. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?

Overall, with some exceptions.

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8. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?

Elementary art is taught by the primary class teacher. Some projects were fairly impressive. Our secondary art teacher has a fairly impressive IB art program. Music is taught by a specialist through MYP. There is no DP music. Drama is taught throughout. The primary and MYP do regular plays.

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9. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?

Yes.

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10. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.

Teachers strive to differentiate and push students to their potential. This is the ideal and we reach it at times. Any teacher can tell you it is one of the biggest challenges in modern pedagogy. We fall short at times as well.

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11. What extra-curricular activities (including sports) are available at this school? Have your children participated in these activities? What activities do you feel are missing at the school?

Teachers must offer one after school activity or coaching activity per term. There is a wide range of activities on offer.

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Social & Emotional Well-Being:

1. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?

The birthday party scene here is significant. My kids get regular invites and I could spend most weekends shuttling them around. We plan many family outings that mean we miss many parties. Yes, there is a good blend with local and expat kids in my opinion.

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2. Are there are any problems with exclusionary behavior, cliques, or bullying at this school? Please describe any problems your children may have experienced in this area.

There are many students that are long-term Westwood kids. It is not a very mobile community. Considering this, I find the kids very polite and inclusive overall. I don't think that bullying/teasing are particularly significant here. Yes, some behavior is inappropriate at times. This is normal to have ongoing conversations about inclusion at any school.

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Overall Impressions:

1. What is the greatest strength of this school?

Diversity, amazing weather, the outdoor campus, small class sizes.

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2. Would you choose this school again? Why?

I would. It has been a good fit for my family at this point in our lives. My kids are growing, gaining confidence and love to come to school in the morning.

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