Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Real School Experiences

Personal Experiences from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 04/25/19

British School of Riyadh

School Website

https://bisr.com.sa


Background Information:

1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?

I am the mother of four children attending BISR.

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2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?

Kindergarten/1st grade, 1st/2nd grade, 4th/5th grade, & 6th/7th grade
2018-2020

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3. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?

State department

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4. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?

Most children from the US Embassy attend AISR. We chose the British school because of numerous parents telling us they were unhappy with the curriculum at AISR. They felt like it was about a year behind American schools and that students spent too much time playing on their ipads and learning to become a "global citizen". Our kids were already in a British school at our last post which was more advanced & rigorous than a typical American elementary school, so we felt our kids would waste two years at a school if it was a year behind American schools.

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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?

They are clearly stated. It is difficult to figure out how to pay for the application fee since most US banks won't send money to a Saudi bank. We had to have someone here at post go pay it for us and send them money through paypal.

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2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?

I think there are/were a lot of new students this year, so there wasn't anything special as a welcome or integration. They just started school like all the other kids.

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Administration & School Procedures:

1. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?

Communication is almost all through the school's website & weekly newsletter. You have to read the newsletter to be aware of upcoming field trips and events. I wish teachers would email us directly. You have to read/scan a long letter to figure out what applies to your child. You can talk or email your teachers directly with concerns and they are prompt with getting back to you.

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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 and laptops for year 7 (6th grade) and above. Field trips have been minimal cost. There are bigger trips that are optional and quite expensive.

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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 is a counselor and I've heard she is really good but I haven't had any interaction with her. There are many college counselors but I would not suggest BISR for high school students unless you plan and can stay with the British system until they graduate. We will switch back to the American system since we don't know where my oldest will graduate from.

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2. Is there before and/or after-school daycare available? What are the costs?

No

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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, kids can borrow books at their breaks as well as their weekly library day.

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4. What are the technology requirements for students? Do they need their own laptops/ipads? How is technology integrated into the classroom and homework?

Laptops for middle school and above. Ipads and computers are occasionally used in the elementary years but its not excessive. Seems like the right amount to me for that age group.

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5. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?

There is a computer lab and my kids really enjoy it.

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6. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?

Kids have PE or swimming twice a week. They trade off which kids are swimming. They learn the strokes and have really gotten better at swimming. There is a very good swim team and there are other extra activities and teams throughout the year. This is a big bonus over the American school which doesn't have any sports for elementary.

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7. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?

About 15-20 kids in the elementary classes with a teacher and full time aid.

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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?

My kids have been appropriately challenged. I am pleased with what they are learning without there being excessive homework.

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9. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?

Yes, very little in kindergarten and 1st grade. Not too much in 3rd grade either. My child in 6th grade has a good amount but the British system has taught him a lot of independence and time-management so he does well with the amount they are given.

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10. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?

Music lessons are available, choir, my 6th grade son has a drama class all year. You can sign up for additional plays if you're interested.

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11. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?

Yes

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12. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.

I am not sure if there is any. They do divide the kids into levels for their math and English so they really do challenge them where they are at for those subjects.

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13. 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?

Kids have participated in many after school activities. Rugby, soccer, art, cooking

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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?

Guessing none, it would be very difficult to have an LGBT child in this country

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2. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?

Not many local kids at this school, it is very international. Students from all over the world in every class.

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3. 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.

Typical middle school cliques

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Overall Impressions:

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?

A, yes we would definitely choose it.

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2. Please tell us anything else you think prospective parents and students should know about this school. Thanks for your contribution!

It can be more difficult socially for you child if you are part of the American embassy as most kids go to AISR

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 07/17/18

American International School -- Riyadh

School Website

http://www.aisr.org/index.cfm


Background Information:

1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?

Parent.

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2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?

One child for 6th and 7th grades; the other for 8th and 9th grades.

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3. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?

U.S. Embassy

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4. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?

There a few limited options -- the British School (BISR), the Multinational School (MNS), a French school, and a German school. We chose AIS-R because it was a PYP/IB school, which allowed for some continuity for the kids.

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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?

Admissions process was pretty straightforward for our kids. I understand from some other families that SN kids may run into some issues. Friends with kids on IEPs had better luck at other schools.

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2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?

Relatively good, but we're also pretty low-maintenance. There was an orientation day for new families and good communication regarding supply lists, etc., before we arrived.

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Administration & School Procedures:

1. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?

Mostly via email. Almost everything from AIS-R is handled electronically, via email or through their communications app.

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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?

Every child is required to have either an iPad or a laptop, depending on the grade level. You are responsible for purchasing the required equipment. Additional class trips, sports team trips, club trips were also out of pocket additional expenses.

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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 counselors in the middle school and in the high school grades. Our children were not yet looking at colleges while we were at AIS-R.

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2. Is there before and/or after-school daycare available? What are the costs?

There are some limited after school sports and activities. Kids can only sign up for ONE after school activity each session.

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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, the library is large with a pretty decent selection.

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4. What are the technology requirements for students? Do they need their own laptops/ipads? How is technology integrated into the classroom and homework?

Everything at AIS-R is tech-based. There are NO papers or worksheets, even at the lower grades.

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5. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?

There is a large gym for the middle and high school students. Oddly, there is no pool.

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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?

IB is available in 11 - 12th grades.

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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?

This is a weakness at AIS-R. My kids' standardized test scores went down between fall and spring each year here. We are a bit concerned about making sure they are appropriately prepared for our next school (in Asia with cut-throat academics). AIS-R is run by Canadians for Saudis. It is not academically challenging at all at least until HS grades when they must meet international accreditation standards. There is a big push at the end of 8th grade to tell the kids they have to get their acts together in HS.

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8. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?

There is no homework until HS.

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9. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?

They offer drama, orchestra, choir, and band. The brightest spot for us was the band teacher, who was wonderful and caring.

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10. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?

Yes. All teachers are native English speakers, with the exception of the Arabic teachers.

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11. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.

None.

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12. 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?

Our children participated in soccer, volleyball, basketball, and track/cross country.

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Social & Emotional Well-Being:

1. 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.

In our experience, we found there to be some issues with bullying.

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Overall Impressions:

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?

C+

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2. Please tell us anything else you think prospective parents and students should know about this school. Thanks for your contribution!

If I could do it again, I'd spend more effort providing supplemental educational enrichment for our kids while we were there.

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 03/31/17

American International School of Riyadh

School Website

http://www.aisr.org


Background Information:

1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?

Both

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2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?

Grades 1 through 8 during 2016-17

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3. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?

US government

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4. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?

Yes - British School (though there is usually no space for non Brits, several Embassy familes have their children there and many others are on waiting list) and Multi-National School (Australian - has quite a bad reputation among parents and students)

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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

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2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?

They do a very good job. Middle and HS students receive a "buddy' who makes contact with them some months prior to arrival. The "buddy" is generally of similar demographics (home country, etc). Having been to numerous overseas posts, this was a first and really made the difference. My one child's "buddy" remains his best friend almost a year later.

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Administration & School Procedures:

1. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?

Attrocious to be honest. It is not for lack of means, however. The MS principal once thought he was bragging when he said "we have 37 means by which to communicate with you." This is not really an exageration. There are emails, texts, teacher blogs, Moodle, learning commons, Google Docs, numerous apps, twitter, instagram, facebook, and a plethora more. All with dedicated passwords/etc. There is no one single place to find academic information, grades, after school activities, social events, etc. Nor will your children be able to tell you what's going on either. Many people that we know simply delete emails without even reading them since they send so many, all stating/restating the same things.

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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 except for PE which are required at every grade level and run about $30. Big cost is for IT - students in grades 3-7 require a latest generation iPad and grades 8-12 require a laptop. Lots of other small things - trips, etc add up over time.

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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 several counselors for each school - ES, MS, & HS. Personality dependent, most do a good job, some more than others.

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2. Is there before and/or after-school daycare available? What are the costs?

No, only for teachers children and only for a fee.

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3. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?

There are 2 libararies. Both are very modern (campus is new being built in 2014) and nicely equipped though not really as well as you'd think. This is due to the school's obsession with technology. There is a major push to become a totally paperless school and the libraries suffer. This said, students can borrow books pretty much at their desire.

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4. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?

All IT resources come from you thanks to the school's Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy. You must have a latest generation computer and at last count, my 3rd grader required approximately 30 apps on their iPad. There is a computer lab in the MS/HS as well as Chrome books available.

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5. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?

Excellent resources with the noted exception of a pool. The school has a full turf field, all-weather track and 3/4 turf field for elementary. There are 2 indoor gyms.

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6. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?

Average of 1:20-1:23 across the whole school

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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?

No AP. IB is available.

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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?

ES (through 5th grade) is fine. After MS the general thought is that children are 1-1.5 years behind MD/VA schools.

Our ES children were on grade level per MD schools. The noted exception is science. There is little science. There is a lot of silliness (focus on becoming global citizens, etc) but overall it is totally fine.

MS is where the floor drops out. Math is the worst where we estimate our MS students are 1-1.5 years behind Maryland schools. There are little bright points academically from MS onward. Humanities teachers (english + social studies) are non-native English speakers whose English-level is insufficient. One of the teachers routinely makes simple grammar mistakes in email correspondence.

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9. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?

Absolutely not. The school says they don't assign homework in the elementary and will proudly cite one non-US study which showed that homework was counterproductive as evidence. In the middle school, homework is assigned, but does not necessarily correspond to what they are learing/doing in class (example: 6th grader required to do 10 minutes of one digit addition/subtraction fact fluency a night).

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10. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?

There are plenty of fine arts which are offered during school. Drama, choir, art, etc are basicaly required. There are also similar after school activities. The facilities are excellent.

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11. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?

Not at all. Some would not even score a 4 on the FSI test!

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12. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.

None

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13. What services are available for students with learning disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.

None

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14. What services are available for students with physical disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.

None

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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.

Based on hard figures and my students' friends, I would estimate that approximately 80% of AIS-R students are non-native speakers. This is not because many are international students who have to go to AIS-R because there is no other schooling alternative for them, but rather, children of Arab parents who just want their kids to go to an "American" school. Despite this, there is limited ESOL services especially at the younger grades. They combine ESOL with their learning support services.

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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?

There are after school activities which are pretty fun for younger kids and range from yoga to board games to kickball (basically anything that the teachers want to teach). For MS onward they neck down in terms of things that actually interest kids. Teachers have to do them so there are lots offered but some are pretty odd or exclusive - i.e. Swedish (for only native speakers).

There are some sports teams from MS onward but there is a very strong impression that selection to these teams is not based on skill but rather your last name or if you are a junior or senior so that you look better to colleges.

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Social & Emotional Well-Being:

1. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?

At the ES level its fine. After MS less so. Your MS & HS student will be profoundly effected by the worst stereotypical Saudis. There is a large emphasis on these local students of materialism and wealth.

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2. 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.

Not really but my MS & HS students don't really feel free to express themselves in classes because they are such a minority.

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Overall Impressions:

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?

For ES - B - Just needs less focus on technology, less silliness, and better communication.
MS - D - I can't even begin to think of where to start as to how to fix it.
HS - C.

For ES, yes, I would send my children here again. For MS & HS, absolutely not. Many Embassy folks have, and are, pulling their children out. More would like to but there are no alternatives. The school is unfazed since they'll just fill the slots with more Saudis.

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2. Please tell us anything else you think prospective parents and students should know about this school. Thanks for your contribution!

The school should drop the "A" from their name because this is emphatically not an American school. They will claim that 30% of students are American but I would doubt this to be true; but even if true, half of that number are kids who have an American passport but have no connections to the US. If you were to include all "international" students - that is children of diplomats, international businessmen (sorry, no international businesswomen here), etc who could not go to local schools - I would estimate that 30% are true "international" students. But in general, your American child will be either the only American or one of 1-2 Americans in their class. This isn't really a damming fact, but just one the school should be honest about. For us and almost every other parent we know (1-2 familes are exceptions), the problem is the total lack of academics from 6th grade onward.

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 10/21/15

American International School of Riyadh

School Website

http://www.aisr.org


Background Information:

1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?

Parent.

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2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?

3-5 elementary school.
6-8 middle school.

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3. During what years were you affiliated with this school?

2014 and 2015 so far.

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4. What was your reason for living in the city where the school is located (e.g., government, military, corporate, NGO, retired)?

Government.

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5. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?

My kids are following American CV and no other options of American schools were available

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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?

A-We have no problems with it.

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2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?

A

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Administration & School Procedures:

1. Describe the general climate of the grade level that you teach or your child attends:

Friendly, modern, and big ( over 1500 students).

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2. For the following attributes, down to the next blank box, grade your experience at the school on a scale of A (excellent) to F (unacceptable/terrible) and provide comments:<br><br>Overall fair and equitable treatment of all students and families:

A

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3. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?

Mostly by emails. There is only one P/T conference a year.

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4. 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. Lunches are expensive (around 5 USD for one lunch), and kids can buy other food also. Uniforms are required only for PE.
I-pads and laptops are compulsory, including cases, headphones, and keyboards. Count on over 1500 USD.

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5. Services for gifted students who need academic challenge and students with learning difficulties:

No knowledge about it.

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6. Availability and variety of after-school activities for various ages:

C - mostly arts and craft " make your own lantern " :-)

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7. Maintenance of appropriately high standards for all students:

A

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8. Homework assigned (quality, quantity):

Not often enough and too little.

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9. Administration-parent communication:

A

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10. Teacher-student communication:

A

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11. Academics, answer the following questions "yes" or "no" with an explanation if appropriate:<br><br>Are there any classes or subjects where students are not appropriately challenged?

Yes, I'd say all classes, actually. The academic level is very low. Due to the poor quality of teachers (most of them are young Canadians with no experience and without a Master's degree, trying to be "friends" with your kids instead of being educators. Students are not challenged enough in any area. In general, Saudi kids do not show up at school very often, which make teachers repeat subjects again and again. The grades given are only MS ( meeting standards) and AS ( approaching standards). What kind of motivation is that?

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12. Does your child receive any special-needs assistance or instruction at this school? If yes, what types? Who provides services and where:

No.

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13. Do you believe the special-needs assistance is appropriate and fills your needs? Explain:

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14. Does the gifted and talented program meet the needs of students? Please explain:

I do not know about a program like that.

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15. Does the school offer a wide variety of elective or non-core classes such as art, music, and drama?

Yes.

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16. Please describe any classes or programs that you believe are missing:

Grammar, history, and cursive handwriting.

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17. Are there academic requirements such as trips or other activities that cost money in addition to school fees?

Yes, the trip my son is supposed to take - a week in Dubai - costs 1300 USD. Local field trips also have fees.

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18. What activities do you feel are missing?

Creative writing, grammar classes, research projects.

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19. Have your children participated in the activities offered? If no, please indicate why:

Yes - just some sports activities.

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20. Does the school provide appropriate assistance to new students?

Yes.

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21. Please describe any problem areas or challenges in social interaction at the school:

I'm not aware of any issues in this area. My kids are happy in school.

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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?

Did not use it , but they have counselors in school.

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2. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?

B

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3. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?

C- Too much emphasis on it, Kids have to have their own I-pads even in elementary school. Too many electronics, applications, web links ..., Everything is on line.

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4. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?

A

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5. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?

Classes of 22 in elementary school, in middle school groups of 15 kids for 1 teacher.

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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?

IB is available , not sure about AP

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7. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?

No, it is too easy and it is mostly online.

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8. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?

B

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9. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?

Yes.

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10. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.

I wish that were the case. it looks like gifted students do not exist in the school.

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11. 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?

Tut they do offer some, but not the best options.

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Social & Emotional Well-Being:

1. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?

No.

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2. 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'm not aware of any such problems.

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Overall Impressions:

1. What is the greatest strength of this school?

The newest state-of-the-art campus.

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2. Greatest challenge?

Poor academics.

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3. Would you choose this school again? Why?

No, and I wish I had known sooner just how academically poor the school is. I know that is difficult to find good teachers wanting to come to Saudi Arabia ( do not blame them), but I'm concerned about my kid's performance. It is the teachers' lack of concern that worries me. I don't like seeing that my kids are bored at school and that the staff does not do anything to challenge them to use their potential.

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