Wellbeing trends at Dubai schools

Mindfulness rooms, peace gardens and 7am yoga session at Dubai schools


Mindfulness Rooms, Peace Gardens and 7am yoga sessions might sound like activities you’d find on a Balinese retreat, but these days they aren’t that far away from home. In fact, they’re being set up in Dubai’s schools.

Just as the city has appointed a Minister of State for Happiness, the teachers are taking it upon themselves to make sure our children are as happy as they are healthy and studious.

And we’ve found nine schools in particular that make a concerted effort to ensure their students have plenty of positive energy in order to boost productivity and healthy life habits early on. So, get yourself relaxed and in the Lotus position, then read on to find out what ground-breaking policies these schools have recently introduced…

Clarion School

Curriculum: American
Fee scale per annum: Dhs40,000 to Dhs72,000 (currently up to Grade 4)
Age range: Pre-KG to Grade 11
Clarion says the foundation of health and wellbeing at their school is respect for themselves and others. Children make and believe in classroom agreements and have their own “Clarion way” of discussion when conflicts arise. They aren’t simply told what do to, but how to work out and develop ways to collaborate and communicate for wellbeing and happiness. Their play equipment is all wooden, as they prefer to avoid plastic, and the school has rooftop solar panels with a sustainability and recycling programme that is parent-led. Clarion recently started their organic gardens in which all grades are participating in planting and maintaining, and their healthy foods programme is delivered by Theo’s Point, the wellbeing catering company from Fait Maison, where the mission is “Food is energy; Balance is drive; Ingredient is key; Love creates alchemy”. Morning snacks and lunches are carefully balanced, organic and healthy, to give growing children energy throughout the day in an active school environment. The students have options and are learning how to balance their choices, eat new foods and to support and take responsibility for their healthy growth.

In their words: Clarion school’s KG2 teacher, David Watts, says: “Over and over we hear ‘I’m happy to be at school’.  I’ve never worked at a school where the children are so excited to be here, which makes me excited to be here.” Principal Dr Kandace Williams, says: “Progressive Education at Clarion promotes intellectual growth through developmentally appropriate experiences that encourage effort and creativity. Our environment is designed to engage and promote exploratory learning, collaboration and social interaction on a very strong academic foundation.”
13 Al Asayel Street, Al Quoz, www.clarionschooldubai.com (04 407 3000).

Dubai English Speaking School

Curriculum: British
Fee scale per annum: Dhs34,000 to Dhs42,078
Age range: Foundation Stage 1 to Year 6
The one innovative idea that has had the most impact this year at Dubai English Speaking School (DESS) has been their approach to mindfulness and developing a sense of calm. Experts say that mindfulness sharpens concentration, which means that children are calmer in their learning and, therefore, more productive. They then concentrate simply on what is happening in the moment, on each breath, so anticipation and anxiety vanish and senses are heightened. DESS values mindfulness highly and has made a commitment to timetabling ten minutes every morning to prepare the children for the day ahead with its challenges, risks and the unknown, and to ensure the positive start every child deserves.

In their words: Deputy Head Teacher Jane Shaddick-Brady, says: “How many times have we asked ourselves what is it that makes DESS so special? What is the ethos of DESS and how can it be measured? When we reflect on the many exciting activities and learning opportunities that the children at DESS are offered, we are filled with immense pride. At a recent staff meeting we considered our privileged position in preserving the legacy and the essence of DESS and how we are forging a new, exciting and, at times, unknown pathway for the future of our children. Mindfulness will play a significant part in our success.”
Oud Metha, www.dessdubai.com (04 337 1457).

GEMS Founders School

Curriculum: National Curriculum for England
Fee scale per annum: Dhs22,000 to Dhs24,650
Age range: Foundation Stage to Year 9
GEMS Founders School strongly believes in mindfulness as one of the pillars of this school. They have introduced Mindful Parenting to their community, with sessions run by an expert at the school, and recommend this as an intervention strategy to parents who are finding it difficult to deal with their children’s behaviour at home. To share the importance of mindfulness among parents and families, the school has created animated videos in English, Arabic and French, which they will be releasing this year, and teachers will provide a planning programme to embed this concept within their teaching practices. There are also several displays around the school promoting mindfulness.

In their words: Principal and CEO Matthew Burfield, says: “We have run several Continuing Professional Development (CPD) sessions on mindfulness and its impact in classrooms and I truly believe that this approach is the core value of our ‘Behaviour for Learning’ at GEMS Founders School.”
Gems Founders School, Al Barsha South, www.gemsfoundersschool-dubai.com (04 519 5222).

Greenfield Community School

Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Fee scale per annum: Dhs60,000 to Dhs75,000
Age range: KG to Grade 12
Greenfield Community School is one of a handful of schools worldwide that offers all four IB Programmes. The school takes a balanced approach to each student’s development, offering a warm, welcoming atmosphere for a child to grow into a principled, internationally-minded individual. In addition to nurturing its students academically, through its inquiry-based learning approach, it also focuses on their overall wellbeing. The school recently launched its Primary School’s Mindfulness Room, a space fully dedicated to students’ wellbeing and fostering a positive mindset – a first of its kind in the UAE. The Mindfulness Room, which is open to all Primary students throughout the school day, is more than just a relaxing environment for pupils to escape to – it also contains iPads, with guided meditation routines, a Gratitude Tree for students to display what they are thankful for, a sensory room with a range of stimuli to engage the senses, and a positive affirmation wall. Renovation is currently underway for the Secondary School’s own Mindfulness and Wellbeing Room.

In their words: Principal Andy Wood says: “We provide a balanced education, one that acknowledges that academic success is built on a foundation of happiness, wellbeing and sound values. This room is an expression of that sense of balance and the need for perspective and calm in a busy world. It isn’t enough that our students be knowledgeable, we also want them to be well-rounded and happy individuals.”
Dubai Investment Park, www.gcschool.ae (04 885 6600).

Hartland International School

Curriculum: National Curriculum for England
Fee scale per annum: Dhs49,750 to Dhs65,000
Age range: Foundation Stage 1 to Year 9
Hartland International School knows that children are as susceptible as adults to the stresses and strains of the fast-paced world in which we live. For them, this can manifest itself in a variety of different ways and can be caused by events such as separation from family, moving to a new country or moving to a new school or class. Therefore, it makes sense that children need a way to learn very early on strategies to help them manage these forms of anxiety and develop a healthy mental agility that prevents and alleviates stress and its formation. Hartland believes that exercise, combined with a calm and positive mindset, is key to this management and best actioned through yoga and their whole school approach to mindfulness. Children can be taught to utilise the strategies of stretching, breathing, exercise and focused control to reduce such stress and anxiety, and yoga, by its very nature, is a calm way of developing awareness of our bodies, self-control and self-discipline. The school has its own Reflection Garden and, twice weekly, at 7am, before the start of school, the team welcomes students, parents and staff to join them in a yoga class.

In their words: Principal Fiona Cottam says: “The introduction of yoga at Hartland is important to the wellbeing philosophy of our school. Not only does it combat the anxieties of children, but it supports their overall personal and social development. Whether this is developing healthy body awareness or simply helping children understand the benefits of exercise in their lives, the calm and nurturing philosophy of yoga supports the wider curriculum and builds a strong capacity for focus and concentration. Yoga helps manage stress through breathing, awareness, meditation and healthy movement, but also increases the confidence of our children and helps them develop a positive self-image that, in turn, is reflected in their day-to-day work and relationships. We are very pleased with the impact of this programme to date, but hope to further develop it and other similar types of activities in the future.”
Sobha Hartland, Nad Al Sheba, Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum City, www.hartlandinternational.com (04 407 9444).

Jebel Ali Primary School

Curriculum: British
Fee scale per annum: Dhs43,148
Age range: Foundation Stage to Sixth Form
The wellbeing of the school community is a vital part of what Jebel Ali Primary School is all about, focusing on health, physicality and nutrition. Their recent Health Day was action packed, including activities that ranged from making healthy smoothies, yoga, mindfulness, circuit training and nutritional education. This focus on nutrition, and the ability to prepare food, was incorporated into the design of the new school, with designated Food Technology rooms available in both Primary and Secondary departments. It is envisaged that all pupils will develop the life skill of being able to make a balanced meal and understand the importance of a healthy diet. Therefore the school will offer GCSE and A Level courses in the subject. One of the current extra-curricular, cross-curricular courses is Spanish cookery. The fun of incorporating culture, lifestyle and learning a language, while cooking Spanish food, brings the subject alive. At the end of the week, staff use the Food Technology room for a lunch that enhances staff integration and team spirit, as each week a different department cooks for the rest of the school staff.

In their words: Principal Jacquie Parr, says: “There is something very special about Jebel Ali School. We are welcoming and happy, and we involve our school community fully in the life of our school. It is true that we all live our mission of ‘Putting Children First’ in everything we do. We pride ourselves on the fact that we are a not-for-profit school, which, in essence, means we are not focused on making money. We reinvest all of our income on the education and welfare of our pupils.”
AKOYA Development, Remraam Desert Road, Mudon, www.jebelalischool.org (04 884 6485).

Sunmarke School

Curriculum: National Curriculum for England
Fee scale per annum: Dhs44,900 to Dhs53,900
Age range: Foundation Stage 1 to Year 13
The Positive Education ethos at Sunmarke School puts its students’ wellbeing at the centre of the school experience. From the early years all the way through to sixth form, Positive Education shapes the pupils through discrete lessons, wellbeing policies and the way students and teachers interact. This year, the school has an emphasis on the growth mindset. Values-In-Action (VIA) classes, parent workshops and events like F.A.I.L. Day (First Attempt In Learning) feature across both Primary and Secondary. The idea is that every student will flourish, not just academically, but holistically, too.

In their words: Executive Principal Keith Miller says: “If parents have to choose the most important thing for their child, happiness comes out as a clear winner, even above success and academic accomplishments.
At Sunmarke School, our pioneering programme of Positive Education helps children to flourish, developing both academic and achievement skills alongside wellbeing and character.”
Sunmarke, Jumeirah Village Triangle, www.sunmarkedubai.com (04 423 8900).

Ranches Primary School

Curriculum: British
Fee scale per annum: Dhs45,000 to Dhs55,000
Age range: Early Years Foundation Stage to Primary
A new parent recently described Ranches Primary School (RPS) as a “home from home and we couldn’t be happier”. It is a thriving community school welcoming families from all nationalities. Confidence and readiness for the rapidly changing world is prioritised, yet the pupils are intrinsically part of a small and friendly community. The school also places enormous store on the enjoyment of attending for their Primary-aged pupils and recognises that impactful learning can only be achieved when a child feels safe and supported. Their newly opened Peace Garden is a tranquil, outdoor space that has emerged in response to the children’s need for reflection and relaxation. Teachers have been trained to deliver basic meditation and mindfulness sessions to small groups of children while they sit calmly in the garden created for themselves by themselves.

In their words: Principal Samantha Steed says: “There is no secret to the success of Ranches Primary School and no one distinct USP. The school’s leadership and teaching team, supported by our Advisory Board, inspire each other to pursue innovation with passion, energy and commitment. We connect closely and effectively with our pupils, parents and wider community, which engenders a sustainable strategy for continuous school improvement. We recently took part in a ‘Living Innovation Diagnostic’ that evaluated our school as a highly supportive environment with hands-ready senior leaders who develop excellent behaviours and practices. It is our intention to provide outstanding and innovative teaching and learning for all, leading to very good pupil progress. We really are a community school with a global outlook!”
Arabian Ranches 2, www.rpsdubai.com (04 442 9765).

Taleem Jumeira Baccalaureate School

Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Fee scale per annum: Dhs56,131 to Dhs72,970
Age range: Pre-KG to Grade 11
Jumeira Baccalaureate School (JBS) weaves health awareness programmes into their curriculum, as they believe healthy, active students do better in school and in life. Their #FITNOVATION campaign, which kicked off in November 2016, aims to expand student access to in-school physical activity and healthy foods, improve knowledge and behaviours around exercise and nutrition, and engage parents in activities that reinforce healthy habits at home. There are workout events with the whole JBS community, student presentations about mindfulness and wellness, a ladies’ fitness programme, nutritionist talks and “read and ride” programmes, when bicycles are set-up in the library and throughout the school for students to exercise. There is also a #FITNOVATION contest where students can express,
through a variety of media, what Fitnovation means to them.

In their words: Principal Richard Drew says: “Fitnovation is the school’s answer to the call of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, for UAE residents to be innovative and happy. “By combining fitness and wellbeing into our programmes, we are boosting and making sure our students have lots of energy so they are able to work well in their studies.”
53 B Street, off Al Wasl Road, Jumeirah 1, www.jbschool.ae (04 344 6931).

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