Cape Town, South Africa Real School Experiences

Personal Experiences from Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa 09/18/19

American International School of Cape Town

School Website

http://aisct.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 kids in 6-8, 8-10 and 11-12 grades in 2017-2020

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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)?

US government

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

While other private schools are available, this is the only school in town that follows a northern hemisphere schedule and American style curriculum. We chose AISCT for scheduling reasons and because it had AP courses at the high school.

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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?

The admission policy is clearly stated on the website. Our first communications with the school were warm, welcoming and professional.

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

B. We arrived about 3-4 weeks after school started and felt like we were just thrown into it without much introduction. Perhaps the integration would have been better the first week of school but it took a long time for my kids to feel integrated and some key items were missed such as we never got put on the grade level email lists. After 6 months I realized we weren't getting any information about grade level field trips, college applications workshops, etc and made some phone calls to find out why and found out that neither my children or more husband or I had been added to any of the grade-level email distribution lists.

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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?

Most communication is by email. Each Friday a newsletter is sent out. Communication to individual teachers is fine and the headmaster is prompt about responding to his email. There is a new upper school counselor this year and I find that he doesn't respond to emails and is generally difficult to get a hold of.

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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?

Students must wear uniforms which can only be purchased from the school. They must have an apple device (Ipad in upper elementary grades and middle school and laptop at the high school). There isn't a band or orchestra so no need for instruments unless your child takes private lessons or participates in the middle school band once a week after school. Additional cost for field trips most of which are cheap and local but can be more costly at the upper school level if your child elects a week-long field trip for Innovation Term or travels as part of MUN or a traveling sports team in which case the cost can be $1000+. Middle School students go to grade level camps in February which cost a few hundred dollars each year.

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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 new counselor at the upper school this year. He seems a bit overwhelmed and doesn't return email messages or phone calls from parents. He was confused by the process of providing a transcript to a University for my recently graduated daughter which is usually a standard request. The students' schedules were not complete by the first day of class and were in flux for the first several weeks.

The school counselor is also the "college" counselor and the school does run college fairs throughout the year with representatives from universities world wide.

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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?

There is an elementary/middle school library but I have heard it is very small with a limited selection from which the children are only allowed to pick books from the shelf belonging to their grade. No reading ahead of grade level permitted. The middle school English teacher has a good personal selection of books she allows the students to access. Nothing really for the high school. My kids have missed having an adequate school library.

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

They will need their own devices (laptops or Ipads depending on grade) at least for middle and high school. They use their devices all the time both at school and for completing homework.

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

Internet seems good. There is a computer and a robotics lab.

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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?

The only gym is an outdoor covered pavilion-like space. There is an outdoor swimming pool that is salt water and used seasonally even then the kids say it is cold and kind of gross with lots of leaves. There are several fields and basketball/tennis courts. No track.

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

I don't know about early childhood or elementary school but in the middle school and high school it is about 10-18 per class. My daughter had an AP class last year with just 2 students.

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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?

The school offers a good selection of AP courses including both English, foreign languages, several math, social studies and science. This is probably the best thing about the high school.

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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?

This really depends on the student and the teacher. In the past few years, grading was really random depending on the teacher. As at any school, some teachers are really stellar and others are merely ok. This year, grading is finally starting to become more standardized across the upper school with more emphasis placed on test results and less on homework. In the past, students were penalized very harshly for late homework. This is no longer the case although it is still expected to be completed. My children are mostly appropriately challenged.

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

I feel like there is too much homework but I have never been a fan of homework. Students should be given adequate time to complete classwork and if they fool around and don't get it done, they take it home to finish. Reading, studying for tests and occasional projects should be it for homework in my opinion. It seems like my kids are always resisting family activities on the weekends or during school holiday breaks because they feel pressure to get homework done and I don't like that. They spend an inordinate amount of their "free" time on homework and it interferes with family time.

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

Fine arts, music and drama are all available as elective classes during the school day. Unfortunately the small size of the school and class scheduling conflicts may prevent your child from actually getting to take fine arts classes. Classes are mostly only offered one time per year. Drama productions are only done as part of class so if your kid loves drama but isn't put into the class, they can't be part of the show. There are no open auditions. There is not a high school band, orchestra or choir. We really miss this. One very popular class is Marimba and they perform at all the school functions but this is a difficult class to get into. The approach to teaching the arts tends to be very South African which puts much more emphasis on theory than actual practice. For these reasons, I would not recommend this school to students who want to focus on the arts. This has been a disappointment to us.

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

All the teachers speak English fluently and English is the language of instruction in all classes.

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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 unaware of any services for gifted students. My children have been identified as gifted but there is no special program at this school. My son in high school has been permitted to take AP classes as a sophomore and there is differentiated instruction within the core classes at the high school level. So while the students designated as taking the honors course are still in class with the standard level students, they are given extra or different assignments to challenge them. There is no differentiated instruction at the middle school level.

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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.

I believe there are classes and services for ESL as there are many students coming in from other countries and speaking languages other than English as their primary language but we do not have any personal experience.

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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?

This is a small school and extra-curricular activities are limited. I think the ASA (After school activities) are popular at the elementary school level but by the time the students get to Middle School and even more at the High School level, enthusiasm among the students wanes and some activities are cancelled do to lack of participation. Sports include basketball, soccer, tennis, swimming and cross country. There is a service club, a social justice club, robotics and a small middle school band. Table tennis is usually pretty popular.

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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?

My kids haven't observed any issues for LGBT+ or even know of any students in this category. I also haven't seen these issues addressed formally ever. So either the climate is so oppressive that no one feels comfortable coming out or it is so comfortable that my kids aren't even aware of this being an issue. The school has been having conversations about gender-based violence based on local events. I feel like the school would be very supportive of these students and I am unaware of exclusionary behavior.

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2. What is the climate for children with special needs? Is there a general attitude of inclusion for children with special needs?

I think the school climate is generally supportive of students with special needs. During Senior project presentations last year, the biggest audience was for the student presenting about Autism Spectrum Disorders.

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

There are many South African students who have been at the school a long time. Many of them, though, are there because they are dual citizens with another country or have lived internationally and so their parents want them to continue to have international exposure. The school is small enough that I think the students integrate quite well. The middle school, in particular is quite tight-knit.

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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.

This is difficult for me, because it seems to come and go depending on the student population. Last year I heard there were severe problems in my daughter's 7th grade class. It's my understanding those problems led to a student attempting suicide due to extreme cyber-bullying, and I find this very serious. The students involved have all left the school so I don't see it as a problem this year. More of a concern to me is the way the administration, handled (or, in my opinion, didn't handle) the issue. We found that it seemed to be swept under the rug. I only know about it because I heard it straight from the mother of the student and from my daughter who was a friend of the child who tried to kill herself. There were a few workshops with students and parents about emotional issues of middle schoolers and bullying for current students. The mother of the affected student would have liked to participate, however, as I understand, the school did not permit this as her child had been withdrawn from the school.

The problem never seemed to be addressed specifically and was quickly dropped. I have friends who have been at the school for many years who say that their children experienced extreme bullying from time to time and the administration was not supportive in addressing it. In our own experience, my high school daughter who attended the school for two years did not really make any friends or socialize outside of school. She wasn't deliberately excluded as much as she found she had little in common with other students her age. The "extracurricular" culture of a majority of the students was partying with drugs and alcohol from which she chose to abstain.

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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. Probably not due to the lack of drama and music opportunities and administrative issues. We have found that we prefer larger schools with more opportunities for our children and a more diverse student population.

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2. Please describe some of your child's/children's highlights and challenges during their time at this school.

Challenges: lack of variety in extra curricular activity, no opportunities for music and drama outside of the classroom, difficulty in making friendships, bus transportation doesn't follow logical routes and takes too long, school struggles with logistics, planning and attention to details.

Highlights: last year was the first year of Innovation Term. This was 12 days at the end of the school year, after finals and graduation. All students from elementary through grade 11 were required to participate. Each signed up for one course which was anything from bike riding (half day elementary school option) to cooking and meal presentation (middle school option) to Wildlife Conservation in Botswana (high school option). Those 12 days this was all they did. This was a great way to focus on something new and get to know teachers in another way. This sets the school apart and is definitely something they have to offer that I haven't seen at other schools yet. Ability to take AP classes was another highlight for my children

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

This is a school that is headed in the right direction but needs to make significant progress to meet the benchmarks to be considered a good international school, in my opinion. The administration has changed in the past few years so this may help. In comparison to the other international schools my children have attended, it feels like a South African school with an American curriculum and an international student body. Not quite a true International school yet.
School is lacking in some basics like a school nurse. There are faculty members with first responder training but no dedicated actual nurse. I can see this being a real concern during an emergency situation as well as just on a day-to-day basis.

Most of the energy seemed to be placed on the Elementary School and Early Childhood Center. Most of the school activities are geared towards these younger kids. For this reason, I think parents of kids in the Elementary School are very satisfied, Middle School somewhat satisfied and the parents of High School students, not as much. I'd recommend for elementary, middle with hesitations, and would not recommend for high school.

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