This is a familiar concern for international families everywhere. But in the Austrian capital, the American International School of Vienna aims to tackle this issue head-on. The Local spoke with a member of staff and a parent about how the school helps everyone feel at home.
A unique school for a unique city
As a truly historical centre of politics, economics and culture, Vienna has been attracting prodigious talents for centuries – Sigmund Freud and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, for example. To this day, it proves a huge draw – the Mercer Quality of Life Survey has awarded Vienna the coveted title of 'World's Most Livable City' ten years running.
Such a city needs a first-class educational institution for English-speaking students. Located by the beautiful Vienna Woods, and with excellent public transport connections, AIS Vienna has been educating English-speaking students from Kindergarten to age 18 for over sixty years. Today, it has 800 students representing more than 60 nationalities.
Igniting kid power: helping kids learn for themselves
As the International Baccalaureate school with the highest results in Vienna, the school has had considerable success in encouraging students to learn for themselves. Its curriculum challenges students to question the world around them, as well as following their own passions.
Extracurricular programs, such as drama and the performing arts, not only complement a curriculum designed to encourage curiosity, but draw on some of the city’s top talents to provide real-world connections. In this sense, this self-empowerment, or 'kid power' is a hallmark of the school.
“AIS Vienna embodies its four core values – nurture, include, challenge, and respect – with its students and teachers every day,” says Molly Berwager, one of the schools academic support staff. “Through its unique learning experiences, opportunities to stretch knowledge while also meeting the diverse needs of students, and through providing a warm and welcoming environment, AISV delivers on its ideals.”
The pandemic hasn’t slowed things down either, as far as learning goes. Using a mixture of stringent in-classroom teaching and online learning via video and content sharing platforms, students remain connected during a truly disruptive period. So far as the school is concerned, computer labs are out, integrated technology is in.
Berwager says strong communication, preparation, and “flexibility in dealing with the unknown” has made sure students still have the same learning opportunities whether in school or virtually. “It has been amazing to see our colleagues and students adapt to such strange times in education and life in general,” she says.
Engaging parent power – and the 'AIS hug'
Learning at school is more valuable when it's reinforced at home by parents who want to play a role in their child's education. Alongside teachers encouraging students to share what they learn with their parents, AIS Vienna also actively engages families through a variety of means.
At the classroom level, parents are kept in close contact with teachers via learning platforms that not only display student grades, but also work and feedback. Regular meetings throughout the year further help parents to obtain a holistic overview of their child’s achievement.
Constantin Carmine, a parent and former alumni of the school, says: “It was always clear to me that if I was in Vienna when my kids were growing up, they would go to AIS. The warmth, friendliness and great atmosphere is second to none. I call it the AIS hug! You can see it everywhere. The students, the teachers, the staff. Some don’t 'live it' at first – but then get used to it with time and cherish it as well.”
Parents also receive frequent emails that give them a clear picture of what is going on at the school on a day-to-day basis, alongside the school’s social media presence on Twitter and Facebook, where pictures and updates are posted.
It’s one thing to educate a child, another thing to inspire them to use their knowledge to build a better future for themselves and others. To this end, the school places great emphasis on working with parents to create a warm, welcoming community that supports both existing students and new arrivals.
“With our small community, families have so many opportunities to be involved in the school,” adds Berwager. “Be it hosting a massive foods festival, serving burgers at their child's sporting event, decorating the hallways for their child's grade level, or providing the faculty with a lovely faculty appreciation lunch, families take the chance to show their love and appreciation for AIS Vienna. I’m grateful for these moments as it helps to build stronger relationships between the students, teacher, and families.”
Carmine considers himself an embodiment of this community ethos. “So many kids from so many different countries and cultures, all getting along well. I’m still in contact with so many of my friends from back then. Some were only at the school for a year and say it was their best year ever.”
Want to learn more about how the American International School of Vienna encourages students to find their inner ‘kid power’, and builds a family community? Find out more on their website and watch these school videos.