Vientiane, Laos Report of what it's like to live there - 06/19/21
Personal Experiences from Vientiane, Laos
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?
We had children in grades 3-8 at the school.
3. What years did you live here?
4. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?
Working for the US Embassy.
5. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?
Yes, but VIS has the best resources of any other school. The only other option we might have considered was Hoffet, the French language school. That said, we wanted the school with the best resources for our kids.
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, pretty well. Working for the US government, it's less clear for us what elements of VIS' standard process apply to us. That said, this is more of a US government issue. We were very impressed with how VIS' senior staff made themselves available to us before we came to Vientiane to discuss some questions we had about VIS. This attitude made us very comfortable bringing our kids to Vientiane.
2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
Really excellent. I think my favorite part of VIS is its sense of community. It's just a very welcoming place, and its the kind of school where the kids want to go to school. There are always areas for improvement, but the school's support/welcome/integration of new students is excellent. Our kids were comfortable from the very beginning.
Administration & School Procedures:
1. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
Teachers and parent communication could be better. I guess I would say it is uneven. Some teachers are excellent in their communication and others seem to not make it as much of a priority. Most of it is through the ManageBac system. I think that parents need to be more involved if they want to improve the communication (i.e., if parents want more communication, they can probably make it happen, but they have to be proactive about 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?
The school's tuition covers almost everything. If you want to have an Apple computer, you have to pay a little extra, otherwise you get a Windows machine. Field trips are included, but not for USG employees.
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 personal experience with this, but I believe so. Kids from VIS go to universities all over the world.
2. Is there before and/or after-school daycare available? What are the costs?
No before daycare, but there's a wide array of after-school activities. Some are free (e.g., school sports) and others are not. I want to say we paid about US$3000 over the year for after-school activities for three kids for most days of the week, including Saturdays.
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, it's beautiful. Best in town. They buy new books all the time. Yes, students can borrow books.
4. What are the technology requirements for students? Do they need their own laptops/ipads? How is technology integrated into the classroom and homework?
The school provides laptops for 6th grade and above. iPads for 4th and 5th graders. Technology is used regularly, much to the delight of the kids. Perhaps not so much for the parents.
5. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?
They are up-to-date. No need for a computer lab since classrooms are well outfitted and most kids 4th grade and above have their own devices.
6. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
The school is going through a major renovation which will make things even better. Currently, there are basketball courts, soccer fields, and two swimming pools. No tennis courts.
7. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
10-15 to one if you include the Lao teacher's assistants.
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?
It is an IB school. I think that the full diploma is required, but this is something you should ask.
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?
The school seems to rely on the kids to challenge themselves more than have them challenged by the teachers. This would probably be my biggest concern. For self-driven kids, it's great. For kids who need to be pushed, it seems to be more on the parents. Also, given the school's size, it can be hard for the school to adapt to kids of different ability levels. As a result, some parents have to supplement their kids' education through work at home or online resources.
The 11th and 12th graders are really working as they try to complete their IB programs.
10. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
I would like to see more homework, have it verified, and have activities curtailed if not done well or correctly.
11. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
There's a little bit of all of the above. Due to the school's size, the electives are driven more by what the students' interests are. I think that the school would react appropriately if there were kids that wanted to do something.
There is an active community theater program that puts on two shows a year at the school which is wonderful. We've gone to music shows with student performers as well.
12. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?
13. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
The administration is very supportive of people taking advantage of advanced classes online, but this is a cost that the parents have to absorb unless their organization/company will pay for it. Whether this is equally encouraged by the teachers is another question. I can imagine it's hard for the teachers to deal with a student who is doing something completely different.
14. What services are available for students with learning disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
There is learning support available, and it's improving year-after-year. I would recommend that you reach out to the school for specific concerns.
15. What services are available for students with physical disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
I don't recall kids with physical disabilities. I do not believe the school is wheelchair accessible. I would recommend that you reach out to the school for specific concerns.
16. 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 would venture to say that at 20-30% of the kids at the school speak English as a second language.
17. 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?
There's a whole catalog of activities available to kids. There's one sport per trimester which the kids can play on the school team which rotates between volleyball, basketball, and soccer. Our kids played on the sports teams and really enjoyed them. They also participated in a variety of other extra-curricular activities, including drama, computer coding, cooking, sports training, chess, etc.
Social & Emotional Well-Being:
1. 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?
No exclusionary behavior. Again, VIS is a very welcoming place. I don't foresee a problem, but this is best discussed with the school.
2. What is the climate for children with special needs? Is there a general attitude of inclusion for children with special needs?
100% attitude of inclusion.
3. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
I think so. It is a small enough school that it is hard to be very exclusionary.
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.
There have been some very limited reports, but they were addressed by the administration. Compared to other schools, I think that VIS is very good in this area.
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?
B - I would absolutely choose it again and was sad to leave. I just think that parents who are concerned about things need to be more involved.
2. Please describe some of your child's/children's highlights and challenges during their time at this school.
Highlights: the sports, the community theater, the freedom.
Challenges: the freedom, the access to technology (I feel my sixth graders spent way too much time on their computers once they had access to their own computer).
3. Please tell us anything else you think prospective parents and students should know about this school. Thanks for your contribution!
As indicated above, I would happily send my kids to VIS again. All schools have their challenges, but I think the administration of VIS is excellent, trying to make continual improvements, and I think the school is only going to get better.