American Community School (ACS) is the oldest American school and one of the oldest private schools in Abu Dhabi. The school is outstanding in many ways. Its successes are rooted in the deep history and spirit of togetherness and support that are highly promoted at the school. Community is not just a word in their title, it is a way of life that results in a space where all stakeholders co-exist, driven towards the best outcomes for learning and developing the whole child.
Led by Dr. Robin Heslip, ACS is a non-profit, parent governed school providing an excellent education, based upon an American standards-based curriculum. ACS has been in the same location of Abu Dhabi for most of its 43 years of existence. Since it opened its doors in 1972, the campus has continued to offer an atmosphere of productivity against the backdrop of a strong historic foundation and a splice of modernity.
“ACS doesn’t have the new facility glitz and glamour of some of the newer schools. We have a heart and there is a very special feeling when you enter this campus. It exemplifies the saying that ‘the building does not make the education; it’s the people within it,’” comments Dr. Heslip.
The school’s logo is reflective of Middle Eastern culture and the UAE, our host and home, the shape has eight points. These points represent:
The four Pillars of ACS: Academics, Arts, Athletics and Service and their four Core values: Courage, Curiosity, Compassion and Integrity
All eight points radiate outward, symbolizing how they share their values with their community and the world. All points also connect to the center, which symbolizes the heart of their supportive and strong community.
According to Dr. Heslip, when asked about “The Four Pillars” underpinning the American Community School (ACS) and their effectiveness in producing well rounded students, she notes that, “ACS is a world class, top tier school in Abu Dhabi providing a balanced learning program that fosters excellence in academics, athletics, the arts and service, the four pillars underpin the Mission and Vision of ACS.”
The academic program at ACS prepares their culturally diverse student body for a lifelong commitment to learning, service and global citizenship.
She continues, “our dynamic educational approach promotes excellence in academics, athletics and the arts. ACS offers a comprehensive extracurricular program, which provides our students with opportunities to pursue their interests and passions in clubs, activities, the arts and athletics.”
A commonality among some of the top schools in the United Arab Emirates to date is that of having a dedicated team of educators makes all the difference to the success of the school. This is also one of the hallmarks at ACS.
“The ACS faculty consists of a talented team of educators whose dedication not only cultivates academic skills needed for success but also supports the social and emotional needs of the whole child. Our outstanding teachers help our students become responsible, well-rounded leaders,” states Dr. Heslip.
She adds that the school consistently has successes academically, specifically in the IB Diploma Program, where all students do extremely well on their IB exams and the IB Diploma results. The school’s 2012-2015 School Profile lists an impressive acceptance rate for graduates who have secured admission to Ivy League and other prestigious universities worldwide.
The school also enjoys successes in sports via numerous competitions locally and regionally with other american international schools. ACS, despite being one of the smallest schools in the Middle East South Asia Conference (MESAC) has repeatedly secured first place in many of the competitions.
“What I am most proud of is that, our teams frequently win the sportsmanship award, which is a reflection of their character,” cites Dr. Heslip, “for me, that’s more important than the other trophies or awards that you can win. It’s about who you are. It’s not a test score. If you have integrity and demonstrate the value of being a good person who will serve and go out and do your best, then we are on the road to success as a school.”
ACS has a very successful Robotics Program as part of their curriculum and extra-curricular options. Robotics has been on offer at the school for several years. However, three years ago, they enhanced the program to include elective robotics classes during the school day, as well as a more structured after school activity for high school and middle school students including involvement in the World Robotics Olympiad (WRO).
“In the first WRO in June 2014, we had three teams competing and one of our high school teams was placed first in the UAE national level competition. The first place finish qualified our team to participate in the international level of the WRO, representing the UAE in Sochi, Russia in November 2014. Concerns regarding the safety of the location led to a cancellation of the involvement of the UAE teams in the international competition,” explains Dr. Heslip.
The 2015 UAE WRO National Competition was held on September 27 at the Abu Dhabi Exhibition Center. Over 50 teams from schools throughout the UAE competed in the three levels (elementary, middle and high school levels). Five teams represented ACS in the Olympiad this year. Once again, one of their high school teams was awarded the first place trophy and the opportunity to represent the UAE in the international WRO, which is to be held in Doha, Qatar in November.
The American Community School enjoys a strong partnership with their parents. This can be attributed to the diligence that is taken during the admissions process to ensure that parents and their students are aware that they are joining the community of learners at ACS.
“Our parent community is extremely supportive and involved. On a daily basis you will find parents at the school, volunteering their time to make this school a better place for everyone. This separates us from other schools. There is an expectation that parents are engaged; that they attend the meetings and parent conferences and that they help out at the events that we have,” explains Dr. Heslip.
When parents apply for admission for their children at ACS, they sign an agreement committing to participating in all facets of school life and engagement in the school’s activities and events. Parents understand that they are responsible for supporting their children in preparing for academic success. By partnering with the school and being role models through their volunteering and engagement, the ACS parents inspire the students to be compassionate leaders who are willing to serve others.
The Parent Teacher Association (PTA) is very active in planning events that support and enhance the entire spirit of the ACS school community. From celebrating special dates such as international day or National Day to socials where parents and teachers interact with each other, a spirit of collaboration and family is at the forefront of their engagements.
“For UAE National Day and throughout the entire year, our Emirati parents are very engaged in helping us connect with various cultural components that are reflective of the UAE. During our National Day assemblies, they share the rich history of the UAE of which they are very proud. This helps to further communicate to our students the importance of respecting and contributing to the UAE. We are guests of the UAE, it is crucial that we have an understanding of our host country and that our students learn the value of this,” Dr. Heslip elaborates.
“It is through working together with parents that we empower all of our students to define and shape their futures. Our parents volunteer and are actively engaged in school events. Through open, honest and effective communication with parents, we keep parents informed and involved in the day-to-day life at ACS,” concludes Dr. Heslip.
The leadership team, teachers, students and parents at ACS, have created a solid bond which has resulted in the school enjoying many successes. It is through constant engagement, teamwork and attention to details that the school has successfully maintained its highest standards. ACS remains true to their Four Pillars and core values – academics, arts, athletics and service; courage, curiosity, compassion and integrity in producing well rounded and outstanding students who will undoubtedly make a positive impact now and in the future.