Dubai: The school run is actually just a few leisurely steps for students at ‘Geneva’, the UAE’s second boarding house, at Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai (SISD).
Gulf News was recently granted an exclusive tour of the facility, which officially opened in January, and serves as the home away from home to a dozen boys right now. A girls’ boarding house is expected to open in September at SISD.
Besides SISD, located in Al Jaddaf, there is only one other boarding school in the UAE (Repton School Dubai).
At SISD, boarder Sheikh Azraf has come a long way from Bangladesh, his home country.
Azraf, 15, had visited Dubai with his family as a tourist before and decided he wanted to attend school here.
“I wanted to meet and mix with people from different countries, and SISD boarding and Dubai offers all that,” he said, adding that fellow boarders come from at least eight countries, including France, Jordan, Iran, Rwanda and Uganda.
There are also day students from over 60 nationalities at SISD.
“This is my first experience of boarding. I was a little nervous at first but we all get along so well, it feels like a small family. I’m finding it amazing, to be honest.”
Full-boarding fees at SISD (including tuition) ranges from Dh225,000 for grade six to Dh254,000 for grades 11 and 12.
Azraf, who is in grade eight, described a typical school day for SISD boarders, who wake up at 6.50am. After getting ready for school, there is a roll call at 7.20am at the house. Boarders then walk over to the school cafeteria for breakfast. Classes start at 8.20am and there is a morning break (9.45am) and a lunch break (12.15am). Though day students leave school by around 3.30pm, boarders stay at school till 6.30pm, when it is time for supper. The three hours between end of classes and supper are spent in various school activities, two breaks and homework time.
Boarders then take the short walk back to the house, where they freshen up and attend a second roll call.
“After roll call, we chill out in the community room. We have free time to watch a movie, play ping-pong, board games, PlayStation, billiards, and relax. We have a pantry on each floor, if we are hungry. At 9pm, we have our last roll call. At 9.30pm, it’s lights off,” Azraf said.
There is a housemaster, who lives in the boarding house, and support staff for boarders. Only one floor is occupied right now because there are only around 12 boarders at the moment.
There are two boarders to each room, which is more like a plush two-bed hotel room with an en suite bathroom, rather than the shared barracks-type halls in older British and Indian boarding houses.
Boarders tidy up their own rooms and make their own beds. Laundry is taken care of — clothes are placed in a bag in the laundry room and returned washed and ironed, Azraf said.
“At home, I hardly did anything for myself. When you come to a boarding house, you learn to be on your own, and how to meet and deal with other people. You learn a lot about yourself too,” he added.
The boarders’ routine changes on the weekends, when they wake up later, “around 10.15am”, Azraf said. “Our boarding warden takes those who want to go Friday prayers, and also to church on Sundays. We go for a lot of fun activities like boating, go-carting, Ski Dubai — many places that the school takes us,” he added.
Living on campus also means easy and regular access to an Olympic-size swimming pool, gym, cardio studio, sports halls and playing fields.
At SISD, there are multiple boarding options to cater to a variety of needs, Omar Danial, founder of SISD, said on the sidelines of the recent inauguration of the SISD secondary school campus.
There is ‘full boarding’, where boarders spend the whole term on campus and go home only during the school holiday; ‘weekly boarding’ where boarders go home on the weekends; and ‘flexi boarding’ where boarders stay on campus for a number of weeks.
“Our parents’ community is going to be able to hub out of Dubai, travel for two, three weeks at a time and let us take care of the children while they are away. So that’s an additional service to the community,” Danial said about SISD flexi boarding.
Beat Sommer, head of school at SISD, described boarding as a “good new feature for Dubai”, saying it imparts “life skills” besides offering convenience to families.
Sommer said: “I think the guided structure of a boarding house, the daily routine, is highly needed here because of the long transition and commuting times. But also because, with the very loaded [study] programme, we believe if we can keep the children on campus — in a safe, structured and guided environment — we will be able to develop not only their academic skills, but also their life skills, and social and emotional skills, which are all very important.”
SISD was recently awarded patronage by Canton du Valais (Canton of Valais), one of the member states of Switzerland.
Speaking during the recent SISD secondary school campus inauguration, Christophe Darbellay, state councillor, Department of Economic Affairs and Education for Valais, said the establishment of SISD and other international Swiss schools in the region presented “an opportunity to organise more solid exchanges between our two regions”.