All schools share common objectives. One main objective most share is to provide a safe environment that is conducive to effective teaching and learning. As such, serious thought is often given to securing the best team to efficiently and effectively execute the goals of the school. Some schools even take it a step further, by not only securing the best teachers and creating a safe learning environment, but they also create a closely-knit community in which students and staff work diligently and harmoniously towards achieving their goals. The Al Muna Primary School, in Abu Dhabi City is one such school.
Al Muna Primary School is part of the prestigious Aldar Academies Group. Despite being a fairly new school, Al Muna Primary School has already proven to be one of the top private schools in Abu Dhabi. It is considered to be a high achieving school, which follows the English National Curriculum. Students are also taught Arabic, Islamic Studies and Social Studies following the Ministry of Education (MOE) curriculum.
The school has over six hundred students and almost over one hundred staff under the leadership of Principal Wayne Howsen. The general atmosphere of the school is inviting, engaging and celebratory. From the moment you enter the school’s campus you are treated to samples of students’ work and projects, which are beautifully displayed all around the school. Also of note are the images of happy children’s faces interacting with each other in pictures that are strategically placed on walls and stairways. These images are reflective of the great interaction between students laughing happily as they talk with each other. This sends a clear message, that this is their school and they are happy to be there.
“We consider our relationships to be of paramount importance. We are a really welcoming community,” cites Mr Howsen.
The relationship that students cultivate with each other as well as with the staff is aided by the promotion of the school’s core values. These are courtesy, consideration and co- operation. They also emphasise the importance of attendance, punctuality and ensuring that the students make outstanding progress.
This is a facility designed specifically to support students who may have a learning difficulty such as Dyslexia, Dyscalculia (difficulty with numbers), developmental delays and speech or language difficulty. It also caters to students who are new to the English National Curriculum and need extra support. The staff are very skilled and work very hard to enable students to make progress by providing lessons that are relevant to the students’ readiness and developmental needs as well as their learning styles and interests.
Al Muna Primary’s gifted students have been introduced to programmes to motivate them further towards achieving their highest potential. Special programmes have been designed in particular to promote gifted UAE nationals, which make up twenty-seven per cent of the school’s student population. Examples of this include a music-mixing workshop that was recently conducted by popular Dubai One DJ Saif Al-Naji, who encouraged the students to work hard because there are many exciting job opportunities, like his job, that are available to them. An Emirati author also visited and worked with students on story writing. There was also a visit by a veterinarian.
National Day is celebrated with much fanfare and is a whole school community event, led by the school’s Arabic staff. They create their own traditional heritage village with animals, traditional crafts and cookery, which takes three or four days to be put in place. Students then spend the morning visiting the heritage village. A big assembly follows where the UAE cultural dances and other traditions are performed. Finally, in the afternoon, the families come in and it becomes a big picnic on the field.
A number of the programmes in place at Al Muna Primay are reminiscent of the school’s core values. This year, special focus was given to the environment. Each year group was assigned its own project under topics such as recycling, the sustainability of eating local food and the conservation of electricity among other topics. Evidence of the projects is displayed in the schoolyard and along various corridors. The front of the school features two bespoke camels that the students worked on with an artist as a reminder for students of environmental awareness. There is also a small garden where rocket, herbs and tomatoes grow, alongside a mini farm of chickens and tortoises naturally cared for by the children. This has become an Information Technology project for them as they blog about it on the school’s website.
Reading is crucial to students’ academic development. The Al Muna Primary School has an impressively stocked library where the students are excited to go as they are treated to a wide range of reading material in both Arabic and English.
“Reading is the most important skill children learn when they come to school. Without being able to read, they are denied access to so many things in life. We not only want our children to be able to decode words; we want them to develop a love of reading,” states Mr Howsen.
There are a number of activities in place that encourage students to read. A few weeks ago, students made their own books, which they then sold to their parents. This was for them to say ‘we are authors’. They used the money for a charity project. This kind of activity builds confidence and inspires creativity among students. They are able to develop a good understanding of children’s authors and they have a natural love of reading.
Mr Howsen notes that the key priorities in all this is that; students are well cared for and are safe, learning is relevant to what students need to know to live in an international community, learning is, enjoyable and fun and that staff are accountable for the progress that students make as they have very high expectations of each other.
Naturally, the school is constantly abuzz with numerous learning activities from as early as 6:45am when some extracurricular activities take place until it’s time for dismissal. Mr Howsen is busy participating in lesson observations, monitoring the students at times during break, conducting African drumming classes on Wednesday mornings and basketball practice on Thursday afternoons.
Al Muna Primay’s extensive list of student activities includes, sports such as basketball, water polo, swimming, biathlon, netball and touch rugby. Other activities include dance, Arabic dance, Arabic calligraphy, arts, design, sketching, cartoon making, and ICT among many others. These vary on a term-by-term basis.
Visitors often say that we appear very laid back, but behind that is a backbone of really high expectations. We all have a common goal, to make sure that each child feels valued, that they are a part of the decision making process through the school council. They know that it is the job of every adult in this school to make them feel safe and to encourage them to be independent thinkers and learners.”
Students also know that academic excellence, good manners and lovely behaviour hold rich rewards for them. Each class has its own rewards system. Year 5 and 6 students are rewarded with credits when they do well or excel. Once a student has accumulated enough credits he/she can use the credits earned to purchase items from the school’s credit store. Big purchases include special trips to places such as Water World at the end of the school year. Other purchases include fifteen minutes in extra time on the ipad on a Thursday afternoon or a bit of extended playtime. Smaller purchases are pens, pencils and so on.
Students who behave really well during lunchtime get invited to sit with the principal and his deputy at the top table on the stage. This table is beautifully decorated with a nice tablecloth and has proper cutlery. Students who have a good attendance or whose punctuality is excellent get invited to a tea party that is held once per term as well.
One major reward is the gold card. This is given to students who do exceptionally well. Students who get the gold card are lauded during assembly and are featured in the school’s newsletter. All this helps to boost their confidence.
In an atmosphere that is so student centred and rich with industry, it is not surprising that students naturally push themselves to excel. The leadership is keen to point out that despite their successes, they are always looking at ways in which they can improve. This is a prime example of a school staying true to its main aim. They will continue to do better than their last best as they continue to ‘achieve success’!