Focus school: American International School Egypt

Submitted by: Anne Neill, Kristin Karsies, Cari Freer and Noelle King
Date: May 2022
Photos courtesy of American International School in Egypt

front of AIS Egypt school buildingThe American International School in Egypt (AISE) has been a member of the WIDA International School Consortium for more than a decade. We are a K-12 school with two campuses located in Cairo, Egypt. AISE offers a rigorous curriculum with both United States and International Baccalaureate diploma programs, and our mission is to “inspire students to be lifelong learners who contribute positively within a diverse and changing world.” We boast broad cultural and linguistic diversity among our students and staff, and are a community truly characterized by a multilingual and multicultural identity.

As the market conditions in Cairo continue to open to foreign investment and multinational enterprise, our student population reflects rapid globalization. Officially, our demographics data purports that our school serves 80% Egyptian students and the other 20% represent students from more than 30 nationalities. The real story is far more nuanced, complicated and multilingual. A large percentage of our students have one parent from Romania, Singapore, Venezuela, Germany, etc. and another from Egypt. Some families have raised their children in Saudi Arabia or France or Switzerland and are relocating back to Egypt for the first time. With the rise of the “third-culture kid” – loosely defined to mean a child who has been raised in or interacted with two or more different cultural environments, AISE is needing to quickly adapt to our student community’s changing needs.

One unique aspect of our student body is that more than 90% of our population claims Arabic as their mother tongue. Arabic varies from other languages by the differences in spoken and written dialects. Our staff have spent years understanding the distinctive needs of our student body, and continue to focus on growing academic language, vocabulary knowledge and the strategic use of sentence frames across grade levels and disciplines.

Over the years, WIDA’s assessment tools, standards framework and professional development opportunities such as the WIDA Institute, have been foundational in helping us identify and meet the changing needs of our multilingual student population. While our journey began with using WIDA MODEL to identify students for English language support, our we are now broadening our work to build awareness among all faculty that “multilingual learners’ languages and cultures are valuable resources to be leveraged for schooling and classroom life”, according to the WIDA Guiding Principles of Language Development. We have launched an initiative called “Multilingualism is our Superpower” to promote an understanding of the assets our multilingual learners bring to their learning and community. We have placed posters around the school and offered learning opportunities for teachers to delve deeper into issues of identity, equity and best practices for multilingual learners. This has also blended perfectly with our school’s identity and belonging initiative for the year.

Finally, we are excited to have a team of 10 people from both of our campuses participating in the WIDA Global Community of Practice. We are a diverse group of both teaching staff and admissions personnel delving into this learning journey together. It has been a positive way to expose more of us to WIDA and has given us a common lens for taking a closer look at our school’s policies and practices.

“Before participating in the WIDA Global Community of Practice, I knew WIDA was an assessment but through the journey I learned so much more about WIDA. By working closely with my counterparts at AIS Main Campus, I have gained a better understanding of what WIDA is and how it can be used to leverage students' knowledge. Not only did we delve deeper into the assessments we give and their purpose, but we also began a number of other conversations on how to better serve our multilingual learners in the future.” – elementary teacher

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