Moscow, Russia Report of what it's like to live there - 01/02/21
Personal Experiences from Moscow, Russia
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?
Lower elementary 2018-2021.
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)?
5. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?
There are several British curriculum schools (ISM, BSM). There is also a small Baptist school that mainly serves missionary kids, but I don't know much about it. For an American curriculum education, AAS is really the only option.
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?
2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
The school does a good job of welcoming and orienting new families. They're also good about having orientation events in January for families who arrived in the middle of the school year.
Administration & School Procedures:
1. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
Overall the communication is good. The school sends a weekly newsletter with updates from each division. Communication from individual teachers is probably hit and miss, but overall teachers do a good job of communicating with families.
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?
Uniforms are required through Middle School (there are no uniforms for High School), but the PTO has a uniform exchange program so you can swap outgrown clothes for used clothes in the new sizes you need, which is wonderful and helps keep costs down. The PTO store also sells new uniform clothing, but you can also buy or bring your own. Officially students need to wear navy or khaki bottoms and red or white tops, but many kids also wear school t-shirts from school events and their own sweatshirts over their uniform shirt. It's fairly casual. The uniform policy also says something about having to have black shoes, but this is never enforced. Students need to have their own laptop starting in Grade 5. Musical instruments can be rented.
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?
There are two counselors for Elementary School, one for Middle and two for High (I believe.) The High School counselors serve as the college admissions counselors as well. I assume they are fairly knowledgeable, I haven't heard of any problems.
2. Is there before and/or after-school daycare available? What are the costs?
No, unless you are on the faculty in which case there is childcare provided by the school.
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, there is one library that serves the whole school Pre-K-12. It is pretty big but the space is a bit awkward. The collection however is excellent, they do a fantastic job of ordering new materials and obviously have a very healthy budget. You can pretty much request anything you are looking for and they will order it for you. It's the best-resourced library of any school I have worked in.
4. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?
There were some computer labs but they have been phased out since pretty much everyone has a laptop now. Everything is quite well-resourced and items are frequently updated.
5. What are the technology requirements for students? Do they need their own laptops/ipads? How is technology integrated into the classroom and homework?
Starting in Grade 5 students need their own laptop. Before that, the school provides 1:1 ipads and 1:1 Chromebooks as well for most grades. Obviously Covid has drastically upped the technology integration factor but even before that the school did a pretty good job of tech integration.
6. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
There are two gyms, a swimming pool, a few tennis courts and playing fields. There's a green top court that is converted to a skating rink in winter and ice skating is taught as a unit in PE (when the weather cooperates, one winter was too mild for any ice!) Before Covid, the pool would be open about one Saturday afternoon a month for open swim and swimming lessons. The gym is available for use by the community as well (with a paid membership I'm pretty sure), again before Covid.
7. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
In elementary the official class cap is 22 (which would be pretty tight as the classrooms are quite small!) However, enrollment has been dropping a bit in recent years and most classes in Elementary have less than 18. Pre-K and K are even smaller at around 12.
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?
Yes there is IB. There are no AP classes that I am aware of. No, the full IB is not required.
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?
I believe so, yes. Teachers for the most part do a very good job of trying to keep everyone challenged. Differentiation is a big emphasis in the professional development that is offered and is definitely an expectation. It's probably impossible to do it 100% perfectly and you'll never make all parents happy, but the teachers do work very hard.
10. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
All of these, there are loads of electives available for middle and high school. There are full strings, band and choir programs as well as guitar. There are several different visual arts options as well.
11. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?
12. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
There was an attempt to create a dedicated Gifted Education program a few years ago, but it never quite got off the ground for a variety of reasons. Now it's mainly left to the teachers to keep gifted students challenged and to my knowledge there are no plans to resurrect the Gifted program.
13. What services are available for students with learning disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
Each grade level in the Elementary has a dedicated SEN support teacher and Instructional Assistant, and I believe Middle does as well. I think there are only one or two SEN teachers for High School. Speech/Language support and Occupational Therapy are both offered on campus but sometimes require additional fees. There is also a full-time School Psychologist. Overall they do a good job of offering educational support, although there is no distinction as such between students with Learning Disabilities and those who are EAL students; the SEN teachers serve both groups even though their qualifications might only be for EAL, for example. There were some quite high-needs students being served in recent years, several with 1:1 aides, but they have started phasing out that level of intensive support.
14. What services are provided for speakers of English as a second language at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
Again, as above, they are served along with Learning Disabled students in the SEN department and by teachers working to meet their individual needs. However, the school has pretty stringent standards for English proficiency levels. If you are entering at any level beyond kindergarten you really need to have some English ability already to be admitted, so I have found that the level of support needed by most EAL students is actually pretty low, they can mostly function quite well in the classroom.
15. 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?
Pretty much all the usual in Middle and High School, though of course most have been cancelled or postponed this year due to Covid. Although it's an "American" school they do not offer typically American sports like baseball, American football or lacrosse. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts were offered on campus, and a few other activities such as ballet. There is also a wide variety of ASAs offered by teachers for elementary ages in all sorts of activities like crafts, games, music, etc. All cancelled due to Covid and I would think it might take a few years to build some of these programs back up again.
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?
There is a strong emphasis on inclusion and counseling support available if needed. Again, until recently there were several in elementary who had 1:1 aides and the other kids seemed pretty unphased by it all, but having such high-needs students is becoming less common. Overall the kids here are very nice and bullying is not a big problem.
2. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
Yes, I think they seem to, perhaps more so than other schools I have worked in. The expat population is very transient though, and it's fairly unusual to have anyone stay longer than 3 or 4 years. The local population is somewhat small as the school has a tiered priority system for admission, with US, UK and Canadian Embassy kids at the top of the list. At some grade levels there isn't much space left for local Russians, though there are always one or two at least in every class.
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?
I would give it a B+. Speaking as a parent I am really happy my children attend this school, it has been a wonderful experience for both of them.
2. Please describe some of your child's/children's highlights and challenges during their time at this school.
One thing that makes AAS unique is that there is a gorgeous and huge forest park right across the road. The lower elementary school in particular does a great job of utilizing it as a resource, and the pre-K and K classes in particular usually go there at least once a week, sometimes for several hours at a time, regardless of the weather. Other classes in the elementary also go there for frequent walks or try to integrate it into the curriculum wherever they can. I love that we can experience living in a huge city but still get to be connected to nature.
3. Please tell us anything else you think prospective parents and students should know about this school. Thanks for your contribution!
The school is in the process of changing its status from an Embassy-sponsored school to an independent educational institution in Russia. This is something that has been in the school's long-terms plans for a while but is now being fast-tracked mainly due to the recent political climate, which has made it increasingly difficult for the school to secure visas for new teachers (they come in on diplomatic passports and visas.) The transition will probably happen during the course of the 2021-2022 school year. I think from a parent and family perspective, the impact of this will actually be minimal. There are no plans that I am aware of to change the curriculum or anything about the educational philosophy or approach. It will free the school up to hire qualified overseas teachers whereas currently it is almost impossible for them to replace anyone who leaves. It's something to be aware of if you are coming, but not something to worrry about in terms of the quality of education your children are likely to receive.