Gulf Insider meets Sandra Al-Ajmi, Early Childhood Lead Teacher at American School of Bahrain.
We recently had a chat with Lead Teacher Sandra who joined ASB after a 12-year tenure at The Learning Tree. With over 30 years of educational experience, Sandra has also served as principal, vice-principal, and has taught at the middle school, high school, and university levels.
Can you walk us through a day in your life at ASB? What does it look like?
My day begins at seven o’clock. I go through my emails and make sure that I’ve attended to parents’ and teachers’ concerns. From 7:30, I then head outside to welcome the kids and greet the parents. After that, I usually go into a meeting with other senior leadership team members to discuss learning support, budget, daily needs and all the administrative things that need to get done.
If I’m not in that meeting, I am going from class to class guiding and mentoring some of the teachers. I also would usually have technology check ins and parent interviews and assessments with students coming in for next year. That goes throughout the entire day.
By the end of the day, at around five, I’m checking out resources and books and getting ready for the following day. So, it becomes a cycle. As for the students – their day begins with a 10-minute warm-up, a soft entrance into the classroom where the teachers take attendance, there’s music and dancing, and sometimes there are videos playing to get the kids engaged.
What makes you so passionate about early childhood education?
This is a really good question for me because I am certified and have taught high school and middle school. I’ve also been a principal and an early childhood coordinator for special needs students. I’ve taught teachers at the university level as well.
So, why would I come back to early childhood? All of those funneled back to the early childhood years which is the window of opportunity. What you do in those formative years will affect how everything else spreads out. That for me became the most challenging thing in the world. I started looking at the details and thought ‘How can I see that this is going to pull the potential out of each child?’ So, I looked at the ECE program as finding that niche and what works for each child because every single child learns in a different way. I want to make sure we are addressing all those learning needs. If we are just teaching one way, then we’re missing probably 50% of a child’s potential. There are so many ways to reach a child and that became fascinating for me. I just had to learn more, and I had to take that under my umbrella.
What have been the highlights of your career so far as the lead teacher in ECE?
That’s an easy one. The highlights are having the opportunity and chance to see something build that I created from scratch.
When we walked in here, there was concrete floors and walls. It was a clear canvas with nothing on it. It was so exciting. Esol Education has been so supportive and gave us that freedom to build something spectacular and unique. I took the best of everything that I’ve learned over the years and blended it into a program that is unique for anyone in Bahrain. We’re starting to see cutting edge technology in the classroom and that’s the way we want to continue.
What has been the most significant change post-COVID?
COVID-19 did a lot of destruction – more so on the emotional and social side of the child. We have students who were home for a long time. What happened is we’ve almost put them in a bubble and wrapped them with bubble wrap. They haven’t been able to grow and develop at a normal rate.
The first thing I realized when we began in September last year is that many have been out for a year and running about six months behind developmentally, they were delayed. We addressed that and brought them up to where they need to be, which has been our goal. Post-COVID, I see that we have more consideration toward our safety and precautions, however, I think it’s important to give them as normal an experience as possible because they haven’t had that for a while. They have to learn to laugh, classroom rules, social etiquette, and the like, all over again.
What’s special about ASB’s ECE curriculum?
I think what’s special about us is that we have managed to take the best of the best. We took the creative curriculum, which is the exploratory, child inquiry-based curriculum which takes a child on an adventure, and combined that with the common core program. The standards are high, but we do it in a way that is fun and unique for us.
Despite the busy schedule, everything in ECE is designed with the child in mind. We take into consideration what is age appropriate for each child. We have 45-minute intervals for the older classes and 30-minute intervals for preschool. I don’t want to see the kids sitting on a chair for more than 45 minutes – they have to go out be it to PE, arts, music, gym, playground, lunch room. Even when they are in the classroom, I want to see them moving around, reading, on the floor, and having a good time. For me, it’s important that the kids’ schedule is maintained in a way that everybody gets the most benefit out of the environment.
We are a positive reinforcement school. Everything here is redirecting and teaching them self-help skills, conflict resolution, and how to make better choices. So, I’m really proud to say that this is the type of environment that we have. Another thing that’s really unique here is that we integrate everything into the program. A lot of parents are shocked that we have a huge breakout room which consists of 12 different centers, where the children have to interact and explore hands on, as well as the STEM lab which expands their vision. That is part of our curriculum and the kids love it. They’re creating a thirst for knowledge in science, math, and the core subjects.
Do you have any exciting news that you would like to share with us?
We are working on our American accreditation and Middle School Association accreditation as well as our BQA rating. We’re also working on developing the fine tuning of the program that we offer with parents, where they are part of the decision-making process.
We are expanding rapidly. From January, we’ll likely open a couple more higher classes. For ECE, we’re trying to keep an intentionally controlled and small, but we will open more classes the following year. We’ve already expanded by double already. Our goal is to grow at a steady pace that we can accommodate all the students effectively.
For more information on ASB, call +973 1721 1800 or visit their website.
Sandra Al-Ajmi, Early Childhood Lead Teacher at American School of Bahrain