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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Back to school in UAE: Hugs, high-fives and happiness on first day of term

Thousands of pupils across the UAE enjoyed music, games and sports, along with their lessons, on the first day of term

Forget fears about back to school blues - the first day of a brand new term was music to the ears of thousands of pupils in the UAE.

There were songs, sports and games - and a few fair few hugs and high-fives from teachers as schools went the extra mile to help pupils settle back in for a new school year.

Learners at Dubai American Academy were greeted by live musical entertainment from teachers to get the first day of term started on a high note as they filed in at 7.15am on Sunday.

Tammy Murphy, chief executive officer at Dubai American Academy, who herself offered a warm welcome to pupils at the door, said they were excited to be back after the summer break.

There was plenty of fresh additions for them to check out, as the school has new libraries on each floor, a new lounge for senior school pupils and a digital design room after a recent revamp.

At the school, 2,792 pupils were expected back, with 750 of these being new pupils. Of those newcomers, half of them are from Dubai and the other half are coming in from all over the world.

A pianist plays in the foyer as young students wander into the GEMS Dubai American Academy. Reem Mohammed / The National
A pianist plays in the foyer as young students wander into the GEMS Dubai American Academy. Reem Mohammed / The National

“You have to encourage children and acknowledge that they’re scared but they are fine in a little time after coming to school,” said Ms Murphy.

In Dubai 173 schools swung open their doors for the first day of term, with many pupils looking forward to catching up with classmate and others starting the process of forging new friendships.

The festivities at Dubai American Academy were echoed across the emirate.

Team building exercises and scavenger hunts helped to ease secondary pupils at Dubai British School into a new school year and also worked as an ice-breaker for new pupils.

“It’s been very busy with many new families coming and lots of new pupils,” said principal Brendon Fulton.

“There are fun activities and team building sessions they can do together to make friends especially for the new pupils to make the first day at school a little bit less stressful. It’s an opportunity for them to get to know each other outside the classroom with some sporting activities.”

Mustafa,9, gives a high five to his father, Barraq before class. Victor Besa / The National
Mustafa,9, gives a high five to his father, Barraq before class. Victor Besa / The National

Some parents cycled along with young children on pathways leading to the Emirates Hills school, home to 1,150 pupils, from neighbouring communities including Jumeirah Islands, Springs and Meadows.

Inside the school, new pupils checked their names and classes on notice boards as teachers guided them to their sections.

Evie Fleming, a newcomer to Dubai from Cumbria in England, was nervous and excited.

“This is the first time I’ve moved abroad. I’ve got to make some friends. I’m in to sports so I will hopefully try snowboarding because I’ve never done that and surfing maybe. At school I will also continue with rugby and a martial arts form,” the 17-year-old said.

Huzaifa Mohamed is gearing up for a tough final year as he decides which university he will study at next year.

“Every school year it gets harder. You grow with it and you learn how to adapt. It will be a challenge. School prepares us and sets us up so that we can progress, because without a challenge you are not going to become better,” said the 18-year-old, who plans to study marketing or business management in the UK.

Fatima Martin, principal of Gems New Millennium School in Al Khail, said the entire school was invited to the football grounds this morning, where the teachers’ band and the senior leadership at the school welcomed pupils by playing drums and singing songs.

“The pupils were excited and jumped on board. We managed to put away any kind of nervousness,” said Ms Martin.

The teachers sang the song I believe I can fly but changed the words to We believe you can fly.

Some of the children have family back in Kerala who faced harrowing situations during the recent floods, stories of which they shared with the principal.

“Allow your children to take risks. Let them make new friends and allow the rhythmic clock to set in,” advised the principal.

Abigail Fishbourne, principal at The Pearl Academy in Abu Dhabi, said young pupils were excited to show off their new school uniforms, many having donned them for the first time.

“They have new shoes and bags and they’re all very excited.

"The little ones joining school came in for a short visit as they have shortened days.” she said.

“The older children support the younger ones and it’s like having a big brother or big sister at school," said Ms Fishbourne.

Youngsters start their day at the Pearl Academy School on Muroor Road, Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa / The National
Youngsters start their day at the Pearl Academy School on Muroor Road, Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa / The National

Saliha Afridi, an American expatriate living in Dubai, was at Dubai American Academy to drop off her children.

“The new school year and moving here can be overwhelming so just take it one day at a time,” she advised parents.

Her son, Isa Khaderi a 10-year-old pupil at the school said he was happy to see his friends.

Her daughter, Liyenna Khaderi, a 12-year-old pupil, said she was looking forward to her English class. Ismael Khaderi, Ms Afridi’s nine-year-old, said he was excited to meet his new teachers.

Connie Hara, a Greek expatriate, who has lived in Dubai for 12 years, was at the school to drop off her 16-year-old daughter, Natalia.

“It’s beautiful to be back in this festive environment. Natalia was raised in this school. This is an emotional journey as her elder sisters have just left for university,” said Ms Hara.

Fabiana Faccioli, an Italian expatriate, has three children aged 14, 12 and eight studying at Dubai American Academy.

“We are not nervous but we are excited for our children to be back at school,” said the mother.

“In Europe it’s very different but here they greet you and celebrate on the first day of school,” said the mother.

Alzeta Strazimiri, a Canadian parent at the school said her son, Tedd, an 11th grader and her daughter Amy, an eighth grader, were more excited than nervous about going back to school.

“I’m looking forward to the new year of school. They have improved the facilities at the school. My son is excited and nervous to enter the International Baccalaureate diploma programme.” said Ms Strazimiri.

Eben, six, walks to class at Pearl Academy School with mother Maryke. Victor Besa / The National Section:
Eben, six, walks to class at Pearl Academy School with mother Maryke. Victor Besa / The National Section:

The family returned from Canada on August 16 to ease the transition for the children and ensure they could be prepared and settle into their routines before school.

Amr Albialy, an Egyptian-Saudi expatriate, who works in asset management in Dubai, was at Dubai American Academy to drop off his eight-year-old daughter Celine.

"She didn’t cry when she had to go back to school," said the father.

He advised parents to talk to their children before school.

“My daughter was worried that there will be a combination of numbers and letters and problems in the new grade," said the father who talked to his daughter to help with her problem.

“Take time out to drop children to school. Make them understand you’re there and will be with them. Also, let them feel that the teacher is a continuation of the parents so they don’t feel they have to wait until after school if they have a problem," advised the parent.

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Read more:

New to the UAE? How schools are working to ease pupils into the classroom on their first day

Make the back-to-school blues a thing of the past by following some simple rules

UAE traffic: Commuters at a standstill as children return to school

New transport link opens to help ease back to school traffic surge

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