Johannesburg, South Africa Report of what it's like to live there - 09/09/22
Personal Experiences from Johannesburg, South Africa
American International School Johannesburg AISJ
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?
9th and 10th
3. What years did you live here?
Arrived 2021. Will be here till June 2023
4. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?
We live in Pretoria. Work for US government.
5. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?
There are many others. We chose AISJ because it is an IB school and because we had heard good things bout the school.
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 support and integration was good, but nothing extraordinaire.
Administration & School Procedures:
1. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
In general, communication with the administration is a bit chaotic. During a recent video meeting, parents were given eight website addresses for matters related to the school: The school's website, Schoology, PowerSchool, cafeteria website, co-curricular activities page, parents' association page, Facebook page, etc. It makes it really difficult to find relevant information.
If the child uses school transport, parents are supposed to communicate with the Transport Office or the driver directly. But drivers' phones are often broken and the Transport Office forgets to transmit parents messages to drivers.
There are two parent-teacher conferences during the year. The rest of the time, communication with teachers is via email, and after the pandemic, in-person meetings, both of which work relatively well.
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?
No uniforms. I believe from grade 6 on, kids are required to bring their own MacBook. Some co-curricular activities require extra fees, as do some field trips, but the instances where extra money is required are few, and the quantities are not significant.
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?
High school has two counselors. Kids are assigned to them based on the first letter of their family name: A-L assigned to one counselor. M-Z assigned to the other. We are not aware of how familiar they are with universities worldwide.
2. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?
I believe there is a library, but my child never brings books from it. Teachers seem not to require going to the library. Most of the homework is done on the MacBook.
3. What are the technology requirements for students? Do they need their own laptops/ipads? How is technology integrated into the classroom and homework?
As of this year, students have to bring their own MacBooks (previously, the school supplied them). In my view, education at this school is excessively technology oriented. Children and parents have to go into websites for almost everything, from doing homework to ordering lunch. Also, children can bring their phones into school, and have them out of their backpacks during the day, which creates some problems, as they are not supposed to use them in class. But then school will say they are trying to get the kids to put down their electronic devices, will organize a 3-day camp with zero screens, to just go back to the MacBooks and phones when they return to normal classes. There are mixes messages in a lot of the things the school does.
4. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?
I do not believe there is a computer lab, since children from grade 6 on are supposed to bring their own devices.
5. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
Sport facilities at Johannesburg campus are big and impressive. There is a huge swimming pool, gym, tennis courts, and other playing fields.
6. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
According to the school website, the teacher-student ratio is 1:6.
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?
I believe both are available. We are focused on the IB, but the IB diploma is not required for all students.
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?
This is a tricky question, because it all depends of where the child is coming from. The curriculum at AISJ seems to be applied in a similar way as it has been applied in previous IB schools my child has attended. The amount of time and effort required from the student seems reasonable. We have not seen issues with any particular subject. It all boils down to the teacher's abilities. Some of them have a way of challenging kids and at the same time making their curriculum interesting; in some other cases the curriculum can appear boring and monotonous.
9. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
Homework in grade 9 was about an hour a day. It has gone up considerably in grade 10, and we have been told to expect it to continue increasing in grades 11 and 12.
10. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
Music, choir, drama, theater production, visual arts, digital arts are all electives. The problem sometimes, is that children cannot get the elective of their choice. They are told to make a list of 6 or 8 electives in order of interest to them, and that the school will try to place them in all of their choices, but not necessarily int heir order of preference.
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.
I am not aware if this type of service is available.
13. What services are available for students with learning disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
I know there are services for children with learning disabilities, but we have not used them. I believe there are also some services for children with limited command of English, to get them up to speed, as instruction is in English (except for the language classes).
14. 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?
They are called CCAs (co-curricular activities), and they are very much aimed towards group sports, like basketball, swimming, soccer, rugby, etc. There are some co-curriculars that are not sports, like photography, forensics, Model United Nations, African Dance, 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?
The school seems to be making a real effort to be inclusive and sensitive to LGBT+ needs. I have not heard of negative incidents affecting LGBT+ kids.
2. What is the climate for children with special needs? Is there a general attitude of inclusion for children with special needs?
I have seen a few children with visible special needs (for instance, wheelchairs). The atmosphere of the school seems to be truly inclusive.
3. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
In my opinion, yes, and yes. One of the nicest things of this school is that it has a relatively good balance of students from all over the world. According to their website, they have 107 nationalities; over 300 students from North America, and 128 students from African countries. At AISJ, my child does not feel like an outsider, as it has happened in other places. Most children are from expatriate families who relocate every three years or so, so all face the similar challenges of constant uprooting and re-adaptation to new environments.
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.
If there are, they must be very isolate because I have never heard of them.
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?
The school is composed by both teachers and students coming from many and different races and ethnic/religious backgrounds. Everyone seems to get along well. My child has not have any negative experience in this regard; on the contrary, he loves the multiculturalism that the school offers.
6. What can you say about diversity among the faculty and staff at the school and their experience in supporting minority students?
The faculty in itself is diverse and students come from many types of cultural/ethnic/racial backgrounds. I would say this is one of the strongest points of this school.
1. Please describe some of your child's/children's highlights and challenges during their time at this school.
The highlight is that he does not feel like an outsider, and has been able to make a few friends relatively fast.
The challenges are the school constantly trying to "take him out of his comfort zone" through Eagle Forum and other activities, and the long commute.
2. 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 rate it a B or B-.
-Diverse and inclusive environment.
-Good curriculum, similar performance to other IB schools my child has attended.
-Excellent infrastructure, particularly the sports facilities.
-In our experience, disorganized and confusing communications: Too many places to go to in search of information, which is related to:
-Excessive use of technology: Everything done through computers, websites, and phones. Then in a contradictory message, the school affirms it wants the kids to spend less time in front of screens.
-Good transport fleet, terrible transport routes. We live in Pretoria, and my child spends 1.5 hours in the school bus every morning. Pick up is a bit after 6 am, and gets to school gate at 7.30 am to start classes at 7.40. The school seems to have enough buses to make the trip shorter, but their routes seem poorly planned. My kid literally rides through at least five neighborhoods from the East to the West side of Pretoria before finally taking the main road towards the school. Finding alternate means of transport has been difficult and expensive. Similarly, communicating with the driver or the Transport Office when students are sick is a problem. Frequently, drivers' buses are not working and/or Transport Office will nor rely messages to them.
-The new school mission emphasizes it wants to foster students' independence and being their true selves. Then, in another contradictory message, goes as far as assigning seats to watch a theater performance, limits the time given to all students to go to the bathroom (because apparently some students go to the bathroom to vape), and has something called Eagle Forum, where students are separated from their friends and pushed into making friends with other students with whom they have little in common. My child has said many times that the best way to let him be himself is to let him choose his friends and not push him into situations he dislikes. There is also talk about pushing kids "out of their comfort zone," without the school realizing that most of its students are expatriates who are constantly being pushed out of their comfort zone every three years or so by having to change countries, schools, language, cultures. They are already experts at adapting to new environments and circumstances. They do not need their comfort zones pushed any further. If he has made a few friends at this school, my child sees no reason for the school to push him to make other new friends. He believes he is good enough at knowing who he can be friends with.
-Erratic, poor response to covid. When we first arrived in August 2021, in the middle of a covid outbreak, measures in place seemed adequate (compulsory use of masks, parents not allowed in campus, reduced number of children in school buses, etc.). The school also notified parents of the number of covid new cases and published a weekly matrix with data for the Gauteng Province, where the school is located, and for the school. At one point, when the number of students with covid reached a threshold, the school resorted to online classes. However, as cases started going down, the meticulously planned protective measures seemed to disappear. All of a sudden, it was no longer clear at what point the school would revert to online classes. At the beginning of the 2022-2023 year, masks were optional and the use of the data matrix was discontinued. The school then organized "Class Without Walls" trips at two different locations for all students of grades 9 and 10 (grade 11 students camped at school). There were absolutely no precautions taken to avoid the spread of covid. As a result, a considerable number of children were infected but, since there is no longer any reporting in place, the school is not informing parents on the magnitude of the situation.
If we had to choose again, we would probably look for another IB school in Pretoria (not Johannesburg) due to the long commute time, or would just not bid to come to Pretoria.