Sunday, February 24, 2013

International Schools in Riyadh:The American International School of Riyadh

If you are an English speaker and are moving to Riyadh, your best bet for schooling for your children comes down to three options: The American International School of Riyadh (AIS-R), The British International School of Riyadh (BIS-R), and the Multi-National School (MSN-R).

It's useful to look at all three schools and see what each school has to offer. I have the most experience with AIS-R, so I'll start there.

AIS-R offers programs from Pre-K to High School. The Elementary school is in a different building from the Middle and High Schools, but all three schools share the same campus. AIS-R has a diverse community of students, with Americans being a minority on campus. I think this is a great thing for American children to experience great diversity and interact with kids from all over the world.

One important thing to note about AIS-R is that it doesn't cater to children with learning disabilities. It doesn't provide resources for kids with learning issues, beyond a little extra help in the classroom. They are very upfront about this both on their website and during the admission process. If your child has a 504 plan or an IEP, AIS-R will not accommodate either.

AIS-R follows the American curriculum but also utilizes the International Baccularreate Program for the High School, which means that high school students can go to other international schools and be current in their programs.

The school is staffed by Americans, Canadians, Saudis, local Ex-pats and well as Arabs from many different Arabic nations. The school complies with the Saudization law which requires that a certain percentage of the staff be Saudis.

Like many international school, AIS-R offers Arabic courses for all students in all grades. In Middle School, students can choose between French, Spanish, and Arabic.

One of the benefits of attending AIS-R are the many programs and activities offered for students of all ages.

Elementary School Activities

The Elementary School offers an outstanding music program. Each grade produces an hour-long assembly packed with music and an inspiring program revolving around AIS-R's core values. In the winter, both the Lower and Upper Elementary grades perform musical plays in which all children participate. The upper Elementary School offers a terrific talent show at the end of the school year. During the Arts Day each grade performs some type of music concert, whether it be vocal or instrumental.

The upper Elementary school has a Student Council where 5th graders run for office and then learn how to be in Student Council.

Drama club puts on a play each year where students audition and then perform a decent-length play.

A variety of after-school activities are offered each term that are made available free of charge. These activities range from cooking, arts and crafts, photography, dodgeball, basketball, soccer, etc. Enrollment is done through a website and is a simple process.

Each year the upper Elementary School participates in an intense Battle of the Books session where students are challenged to read specific books and then compete in trivia contests.

Middle School Activities

The Middle School has a student council which is active in planning activities and events for the Middle School students.

After school activities are also offered such as dodgeball, tennis, Science Club, Battle of the Books, etc.

The Middle School offers 11 different sports including cricket, basketball, badminton, track and field, soccer, and volleyball. These teams compete in local tournaments.

The Middle School  offers the excellent program Model United Nations where students participate in conferences and learn many different skills. Select students are able to attend the MUN in London.

The Middle School also offers an excellent music program with an orchestra and a choral program. They have a drama program and students perform in a play each year.

One unique offering of the Middle School during class hours are the technology classes which include robotics, computer programming, video editing, etc.

Each year AIS-R runs a Week Without Walls program. For the elementary school, they have field trips and activities at school. The Middle School students have a choice between two programs. One program has the students do some service activities as well as tours around Riyadh to learn more about the culture and history of Saudi Arabia. The other program is TREPS an is entrepreneurial program which teaches students to develop a product and then market and sell their product. Students learn about start-up and production costs as well value and other important business skills.

High School Activities

The High School offers a full range of athletics including cross-country, softball, volleyball, and basketball. Tournament dates are scheduled each year so athletes have the opportunity to both train and compete.

There are wide variety of clubs offered at the high school. Students can participate in the Arabic club, the Future Doctor's club, the Debate Club, etc.

The Model United Nations is also offered to interested and motivated students. This year, select students will be traveling to St. Petersburg, Russia to participate in an International Conference.

The Theatre program produces a musical and a play each year. There are full offerings for orchestra and choir.

The school has both an Honor Society and Student Council. The Week Without Walls offerings are particularly interesting for High School Students. Some students choose to do a big international trip like Nepal this year, where students will have service opportunities to work with the poor and needy. Other students work on internships or prepare for IB exams.

AIS-R provides a robust community for international families. They offer many family activities such as Family Fun Day, Day with the Arts, International Day, etc. AIS-R is committed to celebrating the global diversity of its students and community. AIS-R is an excellent choice for an ex-pat family looking for a good school with solid academics and a diverse offerings of activities and athletics.

More information can be found about AIS-R here.

(P.S. I know this sounds like this was written by a staff member of AIS-R. I'm not a staff member, remember, I'm too busy teaching piano lessons! I've tried to do the best research I can as well as talk with AIS-R families about the offerings of the school and its benefits and advantages.)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Random Edition

My husband and I sat down together to make some plans for the next few months. We only have four months left in Riyadh. Four months? How did time go by so fast? I'm so busy that I have barely had time to think, let alone blog.

I've been teaching piano lessons on a part-time basis. I have 20 students a week. Which is a lot for a part-time teacher. I field requests on an almost daily basis asking if I'll take on more students. I really appreciate how much people want to find a piano teacher. But I can't teach everyone and maintain my sanity, let alone care for my family with five children. I'm really glad that I teach as it helps keep my teaching skills sharp. It is so satisfying to watch and hear my students progress. But it also takes a lot of time out of my day. I realized today that I haven't been on a shopping bus for two months. Yikes.

In light of our impending departure from Saudi Arabia, I'll be refocusing my efforts to blog about this country that is my temporary home. If you have questions, please feel free to ask them in the comment section. I'll try and answer them in future posts.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Egypt Day 4: Garbage Mountain

During the course of two days filled with touring, we spent a lot of time visiting with our guide. She is a Coptic Christian and is devout. Both our family and our friends who traveled with us are Mormons. We had a few religious discussions. Because of those discussions, our guide wanted to take us to a very different part of Cairo, Garbage Mountain. I don't know if that is really the name of the place, but as a descriptor, it is accurate.

There is a section of Cairo where the poorest Christians live. All the garbage collected in the city is taken to this place, and, in order to survive, the residents of Garbage Mountain sort through mountains of garbage and recycle usable items. For a long time, the residents also raised pigs, until fears of the swine flu a few years ago. The swine flu gave the government (mostly Muslim) the excuse to order the slaughter of all the pigs. This  area of Cairo was notorious not only for its filth and garbage, but also for drugs and prostitution. The people were without hope, until a very charismatic preacher came to the area and began preaching the gospel to the people in the area. Under his direction, the area changed. The drugs and prostitution were abandoned and the people, while still living with the garbage, have a different sort of hope in their lives. On top of the mountain, these people have built a monastery inside the cliff. This is where they worship.

We had to first drive through the narrow, steep streets where we saw hundreds of locker storage style sheds filled with bags of garbage. Inside people sorted through the garbage. This was poverty such as I have never seen before. The stench was awful. Animals, garbage, and people are seemed to compete for the very air we breathed.

As we came to the top of the mountain, we discovered that a large festival was taking place. Loud Christian music blared from speakers. People mobbed the street. Children, men, and women were shining and clean, wearing their best clothes. As we stepped out of the van, we attracted quite a bit of notice. We walked to the monastery and sat for a few moments in a pew reflecting on what we had seen.

After resting for a bit, we walked back up the hill to the festival. Loud American Christian Rock music played from a platform. Apparently, a Christian Rock band from the U.S. had come to Egypt to play at this festival. Honestly, it was kind of bizarre to run into an American Christian Rock Band in Egypt of all places.

While we were looking around the festival, a few beautiful little girls came to us and tried to speak to us in English. They were darling. Each of the girls was carefully dressed and carrying little purses. Soon they took out cell phones and asked to take pictures of our kids. Before we knew it, we were surrounded by a crowd of Egyptian children, eager to take pictures of my children.

Bubba J, with his blue eyes and blonde hair attracted a lot of attention, which he found overwhelming. Eventually, my husband put Bubba J on his shoulders out of reach. After talking to the kids for awhile, we finally broke free of the crowd and went to our van. It was kind of an overwhelming experience to see such poverty, but yet to see how happy, kind, and sweet the people were. It is a place I don't think I'll ever forget. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Egypt Day 4: 3 Churches

Currently, Christians comprise about 10% of the Egyptian population. Most are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, a church which is believed to be founded by St. Mark (of Biblical fame). Our guide is a member of this church and took us to the Hanging Church, one of the oldest churches in Egypt.


The church is beautiful with mosaic art outside in the courtyard, and lovely art inside.

A short walk away is another Coptic Church, this one purporting to be built over a site where Mary, Joseph, and Jesus stayed while living in Egypt.

As nice as the little church was, color me a teeny bit skeptical.

The final church we visited was a Jewish synagogue, which was also close to the Coptic Churches. Egypt does have a history of three religions living together with some peace. While Christians and Jews are definitely in the minority, they are still allowed to practice freely.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Expat Community: What People Don't Tell You About Moving Abroad

One of the biggest cocerns people have when they move is making friends and settling in. It can be hard moving to a place and finding your place in your neighborhood and making new friends. I have to say that my experience moving within the United States is pretty different from my international moves.

When we moved to Sweden ten years ago, I had no idea how we were going to settle in socially. I assumed and hoped we would have friends. What no one told me is that the expat community is very special. You see, when you live abroad, you tend to reach out to others easier. And it is amazing how quickly you can form a connection with another person when you are both struggling with language and foreign craziness. It seems that expats tend to often be in transition and rather than holding back in forming friendships, expats often are more forward and direct.

The same has been very true in Saudi Arabia. I'm amazed and grateful for the friendships I've formed so quickly. Women on my compound have been so friendly and welcoming. I went to a coffee morning today. I met several of my friends outside by the pool. As we chatted, I thought, I haven't known these women very long and yet we've made connections that often take much longer to form elsewhere. It really is a beautiful thing.