Kingston, Jamaica Report of what it's like to live there - 06/16/16

Personal Experiences from Kingston, Jamaica

Kingston, Jamaica 06/16/16

School Name:

Hillel Academy

Background Information:

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

We have 3 children at Hillel.

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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?

2014-2016. Prep school grades 2 and 4, high school grade 8.

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


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

Yes, nearly everyone in the diplomatic community sends their children to the American School, AISK. We read extensively about each school and reached out to parents at both schools before making our decision. In the end, the academics, communication and size, as well as athletic facilities, made us choose Hillel.

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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?

Yes. And the Admissions Director, Tracy, is kind and engaged. Communication was frequent, and admission procedures were transparent. We were under heavy pressure to send our kids to AISK, both by colleagues and by the Director at AISK. Hillel does not pressure, and the process of not aggressively trying to recruit us was a big selling point as well.

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

A-- From the very beginning, the Admissions Director, Tracy, and Student Supports Lead, Lesley, were welcoming and provided both adult and child/peer support for our kids. The teachers were also helpful with the transition and provided emotional support and guidance for our kids when we arrived.

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Administration & School Procedures:

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

A+ We always know what is going on at the Prep School. We are in regular communication with the school nurse, our teachers, the administration, and coaches. The PTA also sends our frequent reminders about what is happening at school.

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2. 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-- a laptop for the high school and relatively expensive uniforms. We bought several uniforms (3-4) for each child plus PE uniforms. I think we spent about 300 dollars. Also, minimal charges for field trips.

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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?

A for counseling at the prep school and for helping our son with a difficult move from our previous post. As for high-school counseling, our child was in 8th grade and we did not interact with the counselor.

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2. Is there before and/or after-school daycare available? What are the costs?

Most after-school activities are free-- that includes academic, homework help, music, art, and sports classes. There may have been a 1 USD charge per week for boy scouts and we paid about 100 dollars for a term of lego robotics, which meets once per week. Swim club is free also, and it is fantastic. If your kids are not good swimmers when they arrive in Jamaica, they will leave as excellent swimmers without you paying a dime. The coaches at Hillel also coach a club team and, if you are interested, you can join and not have to leave the school campus. For intensive club swimming, there is a charge: about 175 USD per term (3 months in a term). There are also charges for orchestra, pony club, French lessons, and sailing.

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

Yes. Not sure how big it is, but our kids come home with new books on a regular basis. Students are encouraged to borrow books.

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

It appears to be up-to-date, and technology is built into the classroom.

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

Great PE resources: a pool (every child at Hillel will learn to swim), an FIFA soccer field, a basketball court, tennis courts, a pool, etc.

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

Each class has about 26 students with 1-2 helper teachers. The ratio is about one to eight.

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7. 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?

IB is available for the high school, and it appears to be quite rigorous. The "theory of knowledge" teacher is fabulous.

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8. Are students generally challenged appropriately by the curriculum? Please describe any particular strengths or weaknesses in this area. Do you have any thoughts how the curriculum is applied and implemented at this school?

Yes, math is very hard. Overall, there is not enough creative thinking and exposure to real-world problem-solving. Too much rote memorization, as well.

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

Yes. Appropriate. Not too much homework. Reasonable expectations.

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

Yes, there are wonderful music, theatre and visual arts programs. I am stunned by the talent of the kids at Hillel. My child took dance for awhile and loved it!

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


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

Not sure. Our children were in regular education.

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13. What services are available for students with learning disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.

Not sure. Again, our kids were in regular classes with no special curriculum or supports.

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14. What services are available for students with physical disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.

It would be tough to have physical disability-- the campus is vast and has some stairs.

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15. What services are provided for speakers of English as a second language at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.

No experience with this.

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16. 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, my kids have done swimming, soccer, basketball, cricket, track and field. I think the basketball program needs to expand and encourage more kids.

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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?

Yes. Our kids have both Jamaican and other friends from Ireland, Canada, and Nigeria.

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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 is no racial discrimination, but some families who have been at Hillel for a long time think they own the school. It is really annoying because they tend to be the white upper class or others of the upper class (irrespective of skin tone) who feel they are the "chosen few". I find that mildly amusing because those with that attitude tend to be mono-lingual and not very smart. There is a wide variety of students at Hillel, mostly Jamaican, but Jamaica is very diverse and then you throw in the Canadians and Europeans and it is just a nice comfortable environment for all. With regard to the bullying, the headmaster has no tolerance for that. Nearly all of the bullying (or just rude comments) refer to gays, which has been really hard to accept. It is mostly the children at the high school who make rude comments, and their attitudes reflect the country: super homophobic. Jamaica is the most homophobic place I have ever lived in or visited.

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Overall Impressions:

1. What letter grade (ranging from A, excellent, to F, fail) would you assign to this school based on your overall experience? Would you choose it again?

A- yes, we would chose it again. The teachers care deeply about the children and come to work prepared. The school is also very safe, and the campus is beautiful--- breathtaking, really.

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2. Please tell us anything else you think prospective parents and students should know about this school. Thanks for your contribution!

Before someone tries to convince you how great AISK is, go to visit Hillel and meet with other Hillel families. While the curriculum and pedagogy sometimes feel a bit dated, the teachers, support staff, admissions staff, headmaster (and even the security guards) love our kids.

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