Kingston, Jamaica Report of what it's like to live there - 09/22/23
Personal Experiences from Kingston, Jamaica
1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?
2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?
4th-6th, fall 2021 - spring 2024
3. What years did you live here?
August 2021-June 2024 (projected - we're still here as of this writing)
4. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?
Government (US Embassy)
5. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?
Yes, Hillel is also a popular option with expats. Since Jamaica is English-speaking, you could really apply to any of the private schools, but most people don't because the Jamaican school system is not very compatible with the U.S. school system.
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?
The admissions portal on the website seems clear enough - we did not have any problems. Some of the other parents have not been happy with their child's grade placement, but I believe they were able to push back and get the placement they wanted.
2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
When we started at the school, covid precautions were still in place country-wide, so we did not get a new family orientation and we weren't even allowed on campus for the first year. It's possible this has influenced our impression of the school, but in general I think no - their integration is not great. You kind of have to rely on the parent WhatsApp groups to learn anything because the school's communication is generally not good, in my opinion.
Administration & School Procedures:
1. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
Communication between parents and teachers really depends on the individual teacher. One year we had a teacher who really kept us up-to-the-minute with weekly updates on what the children were learning; one year we learned almost nothing of what they were doing during the day because the teacher shared very little information, and even that was last-minute.
In our experience, the administration is likewise disorganized and announcements are made last-minute, e.g., Back-to-School Night this year was announced only five days in advance on a Saturday morning, and the link with the details (time, schedule, etc.) was broken, so it wasn't until Monday when they returned to the office that they were able to fix it and parents could see the schedule. There is a weekly email newsletter that comes out on Saturday morning, but it's very big on graphics and very short on information. They also send out random announcements via email and sometimes via text - mostly we rely on other parents in the WhatsApp groups telling us, "Hey, they just sent something," because they send stuff last-minute when you're not expecting it.
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, the uniforms are through Land's End, which is inconvenient because they're often back-ordered and the uniforms have to come from off-island, which is time-consuming and expensive. Also, the only option is white...which, yes, you can bleach, but seriously, why can't they have a normal color for children like navy blue, which doesn't show stains? They've added an option to buy your own polo and use a sew-on patch, but some items still have to come from Land's End.
All children need a MacBook (they specify which kind in the supply list), although for the U.S. Embassy, the laptop is included in our fee (so don't buy it yourself). There are other costs if your children do certain after-school activities - some are covered by the school, but some are run by outside vendors so there is a fee. (Also some of the school sports have travel costs.)
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?
I don't have a high school student so I really can't answer about colleges. There are counselors that teach Social-Emotional Learning at all grade levels, as well as a Learning Support Program for students with learning disabilities.
2. Is there before and/or after-school daycare available? What are the costs?
There are after-school activities (see comment above on costs) but no before-/after-care.
3. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?
Not really. There is a book collection staffed by parent volunteers, open a couple days a week. The children are allowed one book at a time. The book collection is not terribly up-to-date, although they did import some new books at the beginning of this year.
4. What are the technology requirements for students? Do they need their own laptops/ipads? How is technology integrated into the classroom and homework?
Up till fourth grade the students are required to have an iPad, from 5th onward they each have a MacBook. Basically everything they do is on their devices - they have no textbooks (even at the high school level). I don't have a great idea of how the technology is integrated into their learning because that's not something the school has really talked about. I know they have math apps (like iXL) and reading apps with ebooks on them, the entire school uses Schoology for posting assignments, and the Middle School/High School use PowerSchool for reporting grades, but that's about all I know.
5. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?
I don't believe there is a computer lab. There is a tech office that sets up the laptops for the kids, helps troubleshoot problems, etc.
6. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
No gym. There is a basketball court, but it's outdoors, no shade. (They're talking about covering it as part of their renovation.) There is a swimming pool - again, it is outdoors, no cover. There are also tennis courts (also outdoors, no shade). There is a field where they paint lines to play soccer matches.
7. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
It varies. Last year his class had 17 kids, this year it's 8. The first year it was 12-14 throughout the year.
8. 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?
The High School has IB courses. The full diploma is not required, but for kids that do not want to do IB, there are very few options.
9. 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?
It's hard to say because I feel like I don't really know what is being taught. We rarely see any of our son's work, and in Elementary School they don't give grades (it's that scale where they are "meeting expectations, not meeting expectations" etc.). One of my friends felt like her son's teacher wasn't giving her son hard enough math (even after she'd asked the teacher to give him some differentiated work) so she hired a tutor just so he wouldn't be bored. In Middle School they start giving letter grades (A-F), but they haven't issued the first report cards yet, so I don't know how this is going to work.
10. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
No. The Elementary School for some reason has this really hard-core homework policy (ten minutes per day per grade level, so e.g. a third-grader should have 30 minutes of homework per day) and insists the children need to learn study skills and personal responsibility, but then in Middle School all the teachers say homework is unnecessary and the children should use their free time to be involved in sports and activities instead. High school has IB, so they generally have a lot of homework.
11. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
The school does have a great arts program - music, dance, and visual arts - but it's not elective, all the children do all of them. I can't sing the praises of the arts teachers highly enough. They're all great, and even though my son is not particularly artsy, he's really developed in all these areas. He learned to play piano in one semester - just sat down at our home piano and started playing. It was great. The down side is that it takes up a lot of the children's time and makes the schedule very complicated: the schedule has been on an eight-day rotation for two years now, which is very confusing and hard to track, and when parents have asked to go back to the four-day rotation, the school refused.
12. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?
As a first language - no, several are non-native speakers. All the classes are in English and all the teachers are fluent.
13. What services are available for students with learning disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
The Learning Support Program is a disorganized mess and one of the biggest disappointments I have about this school. We were told our son would receive support, but I feel like I am having to pull teeth to get them to put together an appropriate plan. We see a therapist and we asked them to collaborate with the therapist, and they sort of do, but only if I'm prompting them to do so at every step. Additionally, some of the teachers seem to want to follow the plan, and some don't.
We chose this school because we were told their LSP was better than Hillel's, but I'm learning now that's not true. I have a friend whose son is high-functioning autistic and she says Hillel's support is really good, whereas AISK would not even consider admitting him. Not taking a second look at Hillel is one of my biggest regrets about this posting. I might actually like this country if we were in a school that had appropriate support and respectful communication with the parents.
14. What services are available for students with physical disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
I don't know. There is one student who is a little person, and she seems to be doing okay, but I don't see how a child in a wheelchair would have access to most of the school because there are so many stairs and uneven surfaces. It's really not disability-accessible.
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.
I don't have any experience. I just know that some children take ESL classes instead of the foreign language (Spanish or French).
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?
My son has done soccer, tennis, chess club and robotics club. Soccer is not well-organized - they have it for some grades, but not others, and the kids don't play in a league, it's just a club, so it's not something you can do continuously. It would be really disappointing for a kid who's really into the sport. The tennis club/team is run by an outside coach - he's really great. The kids aren't really in a league, but they do compete. Chess club is only for elementary. It's run by Liguanea Chess Club, which is amazing, but again - just a club, they don't compete. (This is a theme.) Robotics club/team does compete, but I can't say much because my son has only just started. There is also swim club/team, Homework Club, Global Issues Network, Student Council, theatre club, and several other things. It changes every semester.
Social & Emotional Well-Being:
1. What is the climate for children with special needs? Is there a general attitude of inclusion for children with special needs?
The school doesn't admit students with severe needs. My son's ADHD is mild/moderate, so they could in theory do a fine job of that if they tried.
2. What is the climate for LGBT+ kids at this school? Are there resources they can draw upon? Does there appear to be any exclusionary behavior?
There was a girl in my son's class who was out, and apparently everyone was cool with it. But Jamaica as a whole is not LGBT-friendly at all (it's illegal). I think the school is international enough that it has a different atmosphere from the country as a whole, though.
3. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
Unlike many international schools, there is not a strong local/international divide at AISK, maybe because the local population is quite small and because English is both the school language and the local students' home language. So all the kids play together and hang out together.
4. 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.
I haven't heard about this being a problem the way I have in our previous schools.
5. What is the climate for students who identify as ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious minorities at this school? Are there resources they can draw upon? Have your children had any experiences in this area?
We don't have any experience with this, no. The school population is quite diverse, but does not reflect what Jamaica looks like. Jamaica is like 95% African-descent, and the school is probably less than half black students and teachers. But it is nice that there is not one country or race that has an overwhelming percentage (not locals, not Americans, not white or black, etc.). I don't know about resources.
6. What can you say about diversity among the faculty and staff at the school and their experience in supporting minority students?
I can't speak to this. Technically white people are a racial minority in Jamaica, but it's a privileged minority (not a disadvantaged minority), so it's not the same dynamic as when a minority is disadvantaged.
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?
In my opinion.... D, or maybe F. And no, definitely not.
All of the pluses of the school (chess club, his tennis coach, etc.) are all available outside the school or at other schools.
2. Please describe some of your child's/children's highlights and challenges during their time at this school.
Chess club has been a highlight. It's coached by a grand master. My son has really gotten into it. His fourth-grade teacher was also really great.
Challenges: the school's communication with parents is disorganized, and when I've followed up for information, some of the responses from teachers are quite disrespectful in my opinion. For instance, they put out contradictory calendars last year, but when I told them I was having challenges keeping up, they told me I was disorganized. The administration seems to prioritize a flashy website and cosmetic changes over parents' priorities (like a functioning library). There is little-to-no coordination between Elementary School and Middle School/High School.
The (maybe) good news is that the administration is changing over at the end of this year, so hopefully the new people will fix some of these problems.
3. Please tell us anything else you think prospective parents and students should know about this school. Thanks for your contribution!
I really don't recommend this school.