GEMS American Academy, Qatar (GAAQ) was incepted under GEMS Education’s flagship American school in the country. Its first session began in the 2014-15 academic year. Since then, GAAQ has been standing true to its mission of becoming one of the best schools worldwide and producing learners who are purposeful, tenacious, innovative, and respectful leaders.
GAAQ has a spacious campus designed innovatively to promote dynamic and experiential learning. It also houses a BlackBox theatre, high-tech music lab, a dedicated CrossFit zone for sports, café and dining areas, NAAAS aquaponic greenhouse, interactive and technology-laden science labs and classrooms, dual libraries, ICT labs at each level, and quiet workspaces.
Numerous Opportunities for Faculty Members
A diverse student population from 78 nationalities is currently seeking education from GAAQ and is taught by a staff of well-qualified and experienced teachers from 15 nationalities. The minimum criterion for teacher enrolment is a graduate degree from an accredited college or university and/or teaching experience of more than 3 years from reputed educational institutions.
To offer professional development opportunities, GAAQ has worked with leading international firm Erin Kent Consulting to provide custom teacher training to its lower and upper school faculty. “Additionally, our lower school has an in-house instructional coach for Pre-KG – Grade 5 that focuses on supporting teacher development, developing curriculum, and strategizing methods to improve teaching and learning,” adds Mark Lentz, Head of School & CEO of GAAQ. Moreover, the school conducts internal professional development sessions each Thursday, and GAAQ educators are encouraged to attend paid training domestically and internationally throughout the year.
Limited Class Size and Effective Teaching Pedagogy
Revealing the school’s class sizes and student-to-teacher ratios, Mark asserts, “From Pre-KG through KG2, the maximum strength of GAAQ classrooms is 22 students per class. It then increases up to 25 students starting from Grade 1.” Moreover, Pre-KG, KG1, KG2 and Grade 1 all have one class teacher and one teacher assistant (TA) in each classroom, making the student-to-teacher ratio 11:1.
GAAQ’s teaching pedagogy includes both individualized learning and differentiated instructions. The faculty implements these approaches by creating lesson plans that address the needs of different groups according to each group’s respective abilities.
Besides, reader’s and writer’s workshop literacy programs are implemented for students at the elementary level, whereas in the upper school, their math team uses adaptive technology, such as Khan Academy, to help seamlessly integrate instruction with assessment, provide personalized feedback and support students with various learning resources. The languages department also leverages adaptive technology, such as Duolingo, to help differentiate instruction in each class.
Building a Golden Triangle Between Students, Parents, & Teachers
“While evaluating his success as a Head of School and educational leader, my mentor used to say, “You judge the calibre of the school by the calibre of the graduating class,” says Mark. Therefore, taking cues from his mentor, Mark himself assesses his own leadership as an educator and school administrator on the similar notes. He further elaborates, “Each day, I ask myself, “Are the students and parents satisfied? Are they getting the calibre of education they expect? Is GAAQ the type of school students, teachers, and parents want to be a part of?”
As a result, Mark and his senior management team refer and review the results of GAAQ’s biannual parent survey and then update the parent community on changes made based on this feedback via town hall meetings and social media. Additionally, a parent relations executive is dedicated to maintaining harmony across parents, management, and the entire network of GEMS. Owing to these initiatives, ‘communication’ was listed number one among GAAQ’s key strengths by the parents.
Nurturing Creativity and Innovative Thinking
“Innovation is not just a word on our school walls or in our handbooks; it is the core value embedded in our conversations, classrooms and lessons,” shares Mark. Hence, it isn’t surprising that professional development sessions such as inquiry-based learning (IBL) & problem-based learning (PBL) are ready to be implemented at the school for the next two years.
At elementary levels, first-ever Musical Maker-Space is set up for students to create and perform musical compositions and experiment with new instruments. Similarly, level-specific Chromebook Labs are created where pupils can conduct research, engage in creative writing, complete assessments and participate invaluable learning opportunities. For GAAQ’s Upper School (Grade 6 – 12), coaching as an elective is offered to sports-savvy students who can teach classes, provide sporting activities, and lead athletic events under PE teachers’ supervision. Moreover, a student-led Eco Club has been established to teach students how aquaponics works and the importance of cultivating eco-alternatives for the betterment of the planet. Altogether, GAAQ offers a holistic learning environment that brings out students’ creative and innovative thinking.
A 100% College Acceptance Rate
GAAQ is proud of its 100% college and university acceptance rate for each graduating class. School Head & CEO Mark states, “Our high school guidance counsellor, in collaboration with the upper school principals, acts as an accountability partner with students and parents so that both groups understand their roles and goals and how to execute each student’s college/university plans.”
This upper school guidance counsellor is responsible for checking-in weekly with students to inquire about their wellbeing, informing them about university and college fairs, helping them apply for admissions on Unifrog and UCAS, discussing scholarship options, registering them for SAT exams and building an upper school academic schedule that aligns with their university significant and future career plans. Students and parents can approach parent relations executives for any query or updates related to college or university.
Emerging Strong during Pandemic
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, GAAQ worked hand-in-hand with the Ministry of Education (MOE), Ministry of Public Health (MOPH), and corresponding authorities to overcome the challenges and protect its communities during turbulent times.
“Our school’s senior leadership team helped cultivate an adaptive and solutions-oriented approach to the pandemic by embracing all available online, blended and face-to-face learning options,” shares Mark. Staying in line with the directives of the Qatari regulators, flexible school reopening and action plans were drafted. Thanks to these progressive initiatives, GAAQ was labelled as a model school for COVID-19 safety procedures by MOE and MOPH.
Take Away Lessons from the Pandemic
According to Mark, the pandemic has demonstrated that students who are independent, have tenacity, exercise innovation, foster a sense of purpose, and possess leadership skills are more adequately prepared to deal with rapid changes and technological advances. He further says, “Before COVID-19, I believed preparing students for the future was the single most important function of any school and today, I am even more convinced of this.”
Impressively, GAAQ’s five core values—respect, innovation, leadership, purpose, and tenacity are integrated into the curriculum and weaved into the social fabric of the school’s culture. Therefore, an academic learning experience based on these principles is a pathway toward transforming young talents into future leaders.
Cherishing the Awards & Achievements
In 2019, GAAQ received the highest level of accreditation offered by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). “After years of building a solid foundation, planning and executing goals, our dream finally came true,” proudly remarks Mark.
GAAQ was also named among “The 10 Best International Schools in Qatar” and “Most Valuable Schools to Watch in the Middle-East” by The Knowledge Review magazine and is the only school in Qatar to offer the full Advanced Placement (AP) Capstone Diploma through College Board while offering 18 AP courses. Moreover, GAAQ provides an array of 60+ afterschool activities and a results-oriented English as a Second Language (ESL) program at no extra cost to families.
Planning a Threefold Approach for the Future
As the school’s Head & CEO, Mark has road-mapped a threefold approach for GAAQ’s future. He further elaborates, “Firstly, we are re-evaluating and re-structuring our student support team to better meet the needs of gifted and talented students and students who are below grade level.” In the same quest, a student support services coordinator has been appointed for the upcoming 2022-23 school academic year. “Secondly, we are excited to reintroduce sports teams, afterschool activities (ASAs), school spirit events, educational field trips, and schoolhouse challenges after a two-year hiatus,” enthusiastically mentions Mark.
In line with his third strategy, Mark is currently brainstorming with GAAQ’s upper school principals to make an impactful differentiation between middle school and high school. For instance, in the upcoming academic session, middle and high school class schedules will be modified, and a full-time middle school guidance counsellor will be present to assist and advise students about academic and personal decisions.
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