Kampala, Uganda Report of what it's like to live there - 09/29/20
Personal Experiences from Kampala, Uganda
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?
Years 11-12 and 8-9. They attended school from 2018-2020.
3. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?
4. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?
There are numerous international schools for expats in the city. We chose this one for its strong reputation overall and for learning support in particular.
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 did a nice job of welcoming the students. There was a buddy system although none of my kids felt their buddies did anything more than show them around the first few classes, then abandon them from lunch on, so they were a bit disappointed. The 'buddy' program could be improved.
Administration & School Procedures:
1. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
Communication is good between teachers, parents and administrators.
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?
There are no additional fees I'm aware of except for uniforms if children join a sports team.
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?
Personal counseling was not adequate when my children were there; there was one counselor for the entire middle and high school, which is (a) not enough staff and (b) two different age groups that can have different counseling needs. I'm told there was a shift after we left and the Dean of Students was going to take on more of a counseling role to support the full-time counselor. College counseling was being covered by the biology teacher while we were there. While she tried her best, she was learning about college counseling on the job and while juggling a full-time teaching schedule so there was a major weakness in this service. We were given incorrect or incomplete information for many things and we ended up doing our own research for colleges.
2. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?
The library is adequate for the school size and needs.
3. What are the technology requirements for students? Do they need their own laptops/ipads? How is technology integrated into the classroom and homework?
Technology is a big factor in middle/high school and students are expected to have their own laptops.
4. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
Resources are great - there is a lap pool, tennis courts, a full-size track, and indoor basketball courts. There is also a running path around the school.
5. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
I don't think there were ever more than 16-18 students in the middle/high school grade classes per teacher.
6. 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?
This is an IB World school (PYP, MYP and IBDP). The full IB diploma is not required and the head of school since 2019 is very aware that not all students do well in IB so he is flexible in creating options for students with learning needs. I applaud him for his efforts; his flexibility was a lifesaver in our case.
7. 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 have a child who is academically very strong and she did not feel challenged in her classes. The school has a hard time recruiting top-notch teachers and our children had some sub-par teachers and inadequate long-term substitutes that were very disappointing. The math department was strong; English was mostly great, sciences, humanities and design were lacking. This could be different now since there is always teacher turnover.
8. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
9. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
Music, drama and visual arts are all available. With the new performing arts center, the school is now offering Music and Drama as IBDP subjects. That was not offered when we were there so I can't speak for how well it is run.
10. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?
Yes, but there were a couple of teachers whose English was difficult to understand and caused a lot of frustration for my children.
11. What services are available for students with learning disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
We initially chose this school for its friendly policies towards accepting and accommodating students with disabilities in the upper grades. Our experience was chaos with a turnover of the head of learning support our first year and again in the beginning of the second year. The head of school is a big supporter of inclusion and was working to make the school more accommodating but we were caught in the middle of his efforts. Not all teachers had the tools to accommodate or understand individual learning differences and there were issues with other students not being accepting of quirky kids, so overall it was a very difficult situation for our children and others. Our expections and hopes were high but my children left the school very disappointed. As a parent, I understand what the school wants to do, but it was not carried out well and there is a lot of work to be done to get ISU to be a good school for students with learning disabilities in older grades. I'd like to believe that in the future things will be much better and this will be a hidden gem for special needs kids.
12. What services are available for students with physical disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
The school is built on a hill with multiple 'levels' involving stairs. Recently, a long ramp was built in the secondary school for wheelchair access. In the primary school, a student in a wheelchair was accommodated in 2019/2020 but they had to make several modifications and there were still unresolved hurdles that needed work. It was a learning curve for the school and I believe they did their best to make permanent changes to the infrastructure to allow for wheelchair access in the future.
13. What services are provided for speakers of English as a second language at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
There is an English language support program at all levels. In secondary school, there is one part-time ESL teacher that does pull-out support. It seemed adequate at the time. In primary school, ESL is combined with learning support and there is both push-in and pull-out language support. I've heard from the teachers that they would benefit from more training in this area, but they are doing a great job nevertheless.
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?
There are the usual sports teams that compete with other international schools in Kampala or internationally in the traveling program. Sports is adequate but not super-competitive or serious. There is also a music/drama program and an opportunity to participate in a school musical. Additionally, there are academic programs such as Model UN and others. It's a well-rounded set of activities.
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 preaches inclusion from the top down but students are not getting the message in secondary school. Some teachers are on-board and others are not.
2. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
My daughter felt a very strong vibe of 'reverse discrimination' as a white student. She was bullied her first year to the point that the counselor had to get involved, and this apparently happened to other new students in previous years in her grade and others. It was probably her worst experience socially of any international school and it only got better her second year, at which point, she had already decided she didn't like the school. My daughter wasn't the only one with this problem, and a group of parents made this a big issue with the head of school and school board. I hope that things are better for incoming students now.
1. Please describe some of your child's/children's highlights and challenges during their time at this school.
My children loved SAAC experiences - traveling to other countries for exchanges/competitions with other schools.
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?
C. I wouldn't choose the school again because all three of my children had negative experiences there. However, with the turnover in school leadership I am hopeful that things are better now and in the future.