Kingston, Jamaica Report of what it's like to live there - 05/03/16
Personal Experiences from Kingston, Jamaica
1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?
I'm a parent to one student.
2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?
Kindergarten and Grade 1.
3. During what years were you affiliated with this school?
4. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?
5. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?
There are two schools in Kingston that the CLO recommended: the one we picked, the American International School of Kingston, AISK, and Hillel Academy. The primary reason we chose AISK was because all but two families in the USG community sent their children to AISK. Also, AISK follows the American common core curriculum. Once we arrived on island and talked to other parents, our decision was confirmed as the right one for our child. Hillel is a much bigger school than AISK and has the reputation of teaching a very rigid curriculum that embodies some of the "old school" rigid style of instruction. Another thing we were concerned about is the classrooms at Hillel are open air with no air conditioning, shortly after arriving on island, Jamaica experienced an epidemic of Chick-V and then the Zika virus, so limiting our child to opportunities where he could be bit by mosquitos was actually important. Although, I believe Hillel practices much better security processes and measures than AISK.
Admissions & Welcome:
1. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
B. I didn't feel that the administration was overly supportive of us as a family, but the teachers eased my child's transition into a new school.
Administration & School Procedures:
1. Describe the general climate of the grade level that you teach or your child attends:
AISK practices learning through exploration and discovery, which has been a wonderful introduction to my child's school career. The teachers encourage the students to think critically and find their own answers and solutions. The curriculum includes the creative arts into the classroom by working on themes that combine all different ways of exploring a subject.
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:
A. AISK is a very loving environment mainly due to the teachers.
3. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
A. The teacher communication was fantastic. I contacted my child's teachers easily through email and they would respond quickly even late in the evenings and early in the mornings. They also had an open door policy and encouraged parents to visit the classroom and help out. There were only two scheduled parent-teacher conferences during the year, but this was offset by teachers reaching out and being available for questions anytime.
4. 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?
Yes, the school requires that the student's buy uniforms. Also, the school supplies list is extensive and expensive. For students who are not part of the USG community, they are required to buy an IPad and computer.
5. Availability and variety of after-school activities for various ages:
A. The school has a wide range of after-school activities for students. They range from yoga to tennis to swimming to lego robotics. However, the cost of these activities is expensive and could be cost prohibitive for a family with multiple students.
6. Maintenance of appropriately high standards for all students:
7. Homework assigned (quality, quantity):
C. The homework seemed like busy work and sometimes it was sent home with poor instructions and details. But this was Kindergarten and 1st grade, so my expectations for homework was pretty low. I am not a fan of homework at this age.
8. Administration-parent communication:
C. This is my biggest complaint about the school. The first year, the administration-parent communication was terrible. It started with the new school orientation, when the administration could not answer even the most basic of questions and followed through to the end of the year with the parents constantly being surprised by late news and announcements that affected our children's school day. The second year the communication has improved, however, it still is not perfect by any means.
9. Teacher-student communication:
A. My child has complete trust in his teachers and feels that he can openly talk to them about any issue whether it be academic or personal. This is mainly due to the loving and safe environment the teachers have created in the classroom. In addition, my child's first grade teacher emails the students on an ongoing basis to discuss homework assignments, remind them of upcoming events and share interesting videos and clips that relate to their lessons.
10. 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?
No, my son has been challenged appropriately. This year my son's teacher has structured the lessons so that children are individually evaluated and then grouped in small teams based on their mastery of the subject or lesson. This peer type learning has worked well for my son because it provides the appropriate level of instruction as well as peer support.
11. Does your child receive any special-needs assistance or instruction at this school? If yes, what types? Who provides services and where:
12. Does the school offer a wide variety of elective or non-core classes such as art, music, and drama?
Yes. At the elementary level, art, music, drama and dance are apart of the core curriculum and are very good. I have been particularly impressed by the art and music teacher.
13. Are there academic requirements such as trips or other activities that cost money in addition to school fees?
14. What activities do you feel are missing?
There seems to be a limited amount of sports that are available for the older students. However, this is a small school so it would be hard to fill multiple team sports.
15. Have your children participated in the activities offered? If no, please indicate why:
Yes. My student has enjoyed gymnastics, swimming, tennis, soccer, lego robotics and French.
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?
B. This grade would be much lower, but this year the school hired a counselor. I cannot speak to the college applications and career advising, however the counselor has been a good resources for elementary children on issues such as bullying, making friends, and respecting each other.
2. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?
D. The library for the elementary children is really poor. The teachers rely on books and reading apps on the IPad for the student's reading practice.
3. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?
A. In 1st grade, all the students receive/are required to buy an IPad. In 5th grade they receive/are required to buy a computer. The technology is incorporated into lessons and homework. There are smart boards and projectors in most if not in all the classrooms as well. The elementary students also have IT as a class once a week.
4. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
A. The elementary children had P.E. three times a week and the elementary P.E. coach was fantastic. The school also works with outside vendors and coaches to provide a wide variety of after-school sports that kids can choose to participate in (for a fee). I think high school students who liked a particular sport, outside of soccer and basketball, would find it tough as there isn't a lot of opportunities for junior varsity and varsity sports.
5. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
C. My child's kindergarten class at one point in the school year rose over 20 students with only a principal teacher and a teacher assistant. I know that is a normal teacher to student ratio for a public school in the States, but one of the reasons we picked AISK was because of the small class size, so we were disappointed. I also was disappointed by the actual size of the classroom which was far too small for that many students. The school, after multiple parent complaints, did add another part-time teacher assistant, but it was very late in the school year. I think that the school's concern for their budget and profits outweighed their concern for the students.
6. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
7. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
A. AISK has an excellent creative arts program, my child had weekly art, music, and drama classes as part of the curriculum. The school provided several opportunities for students to participate in concerts and plays during the school year as well as lunch time talent shows.
8. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?
Yes. The teaching staff is comprised of Jamaican, American, Canadian and a few other nationalities, all speak English fluently.
9. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
10. 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?
Yes, for a fee. The school works with a large group of outside vendor and coaches to provide a wide range of extracurricular activities. Some activities are expensive and could be cost prohibitive for a multi-child family.
Social & Emotional Well-Being:
1. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
Yes. All of my child's social interactions have been with his classmates.
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.
No, not that I have seen at the younger elementary level. However, I have heard stories from parents of older children where this has been an issue. The middle and high schools are very small and I could see that there could be a problem of a child being excluded since there are not a lot of different groups in which to socialize.
1. What is the greatest strength of this school?
I think the teaching staff is exemplary. Their dedication, professionalism and care has been fantastic. I am impressed with the teacher's abilities and creativity to provide learning experiences that challenge and motivate the children. Both of my student's teacher's have adopted the learning through exploration model which has fostered my child's excitement to learn. I also think that the school has a great campus that provides a level of independence for the younger children while still providing a safe environment.
2. Greatest challenge?
The administration. I have been disappointed by the lack of support and communication of the administration. I believe they are politically motivated and the bottom line of the budget is more important to them than the instruction. I also have heard frustration from the teachers about the lack of communication and support that they have received from the administration, which is a shame because the teaching staff is stellar.
3. Would you choose this school again? Why?
Yes. My son has loved his school experience and the instruction he has received has been fantastic. I think this school has set him up for a wonderful experience at his next school. AISK has been one of the best parts of our tour here in Jamaica.