26 Oct AIS International School – a unique learning experience in Alicante province
AIS International School (AIS) is located in a unique natural setting between Alfaz del Pi, Altea, Benidorm and La Nucia in Alicante province. The British National Curriculum enhanced by the AIS educational model incorporating Steiner Waldorf pedagogy and Mindfulness is taught to educate children from age 6 to 18 years. We spoke to Head Teacher and co-founder Anja Traub about the unique learning experience the school offers.
AIS International School was created by a group of parents and teachers in 2012. How did it come about?
We were a group of parents who wanted a continuation of a more holistic type of education, which is what we experienced in the local Waldorf school. The majority of the founders came from abroad where we were already integrated into Waldorf communities in Germany, the UK and Holland; these are the countries of the founders. We were interested in a continuation of this type of education for our own children in secondary.
The school follows the British curriculum. How does the Steiner Waldorf perspective compliment the curriculum?
The fact that there is always a creative element in the way that the subjects are taught is understood in a more profound way. It’s not just finding an entertaining way to teach the subject but it means connecting to a source of inspiration which is within every person and that is always given a different approach dependent on the developmental phase in which the child is in. The Waldorf curriculum complements the British curriculum in that it differentiates when the best time would be to teach which topic, because it does depend on the interest of the child to ignite that curiosity for the topic. For example, chemistry is very analytical, you take things apart, so that fits more to a child that already thinks in a more analytical way and has a level of abstraction. That fits better than with a child that is very young and is still experiencing the world in a different way, so the Steiner curriculum does respond to how children experience the world and tries to find a way that they can connect.
Why did you decide to incorporate mindfulness as well?
Mindfulness is mainly a practice I think that needs to start as our own personal practice. Teachers are reflective practitioners in the best sense of the professional understanding, which means that there is constantly a desire to improve and also to build supportive relationships with the students. Mindfulness is a key for us as teachers for our own self-development, and I think that is probably where it started: we were thinking of how we could nurture our own wellbeing. This leads to realising that there is also something that can be transmitted not only through who we are but also through certain experiences that we can share with the students. So to summarise, mindfulness is used in two ways: to better connect to their peers and everything going on around them as well as helping with concentration and focus on their studies. We incorporate Mindfulness practices that we think might be very helpful to the students to help them be able to relax, react and respond better to challenges and also to connect and improve their focus while studying.
AIS is situated in a beautiful natural setting surrounded by pine trees with mountain and sea views. To what extent do you think the location of the school affects the wellbeing of the students?
This is such a beautiful location that nobody would argue that it’s just stunning with the ocean and the mountains in view. We’re on top of a hill so we have a great overview of the whole landscape around us. We’re also very much connected to the outdoors, every class has its own exit and access to the grounds and gardens of the school. This means that students are spending a lot of times outdoors and that in itself is very beneficial for feeling that school is a nice place to be, not a building that could also be a hospital or a public administration building. It has the quality of a small village community with its own little homes, each classroom has its own shape and size and you feel at home while also feeling that you are in the fresh air and are surrounded by a sense of history.
The main language of tuition is English. What other languages are taught at AIS?
At AIS more than 80% of the subjects are taught in English. Beyond that, we offer English in-school support and extra-curricular classes. Spanish is taught form age 6 to 18 in two main levels – for the non-native speakers and for the native speakers. Students usually take the GCSE Exam in Spanish, and our students consistently achieve the highest grades of A*-A. We also teach German from class 7 upwards, it’s the modern foreign language we offer. We of course also teach Valenciano from the youngest to the eldest.
If students are not native English speakers what level of English do they need to apply to the school?
It depends on how old they are, if they are 13-14 years old and joining Year 9, they would need to have an intermediate level already. Before that, if they are 11-12 years old and joining Year 7 and 8, they can join with a very basic understanding and comprehension, but with little or no speaking level – we have found that most students learn it very quickly. They’ll have needed to adapt quickly as they will need it when they are 14-15 years old for exam preparation in Years 9 and 10. Everything Year 8 or below is fine if they come with no English or a very basic level.
What percentage of students come from the international community and what percentage are Spanish?
Overall it’s 1/3 from Spanish speaking countries, 1/3 English speaking countries, mainly UK, and the 1/3 from other countries (mainly Dutch but also Germans, Belgians and many others) about 30 nationalities altogether. We have over 50% that have the Spanish nationality, many are mixed nationality of parents but the students may have been born here so naturally have the Spanish nationality.
For those wishing to apply to the school can you explain the application process?
They should visit our website, check out the admission page and click on the link for the pre-inscription form. After filing it out, they will be contacted by the admissions team for an interview with me either in school or online via Zoom or Google Meet. After a successful interview they will be invited to complete the enrolment process.
How involved are parents in the school community?
It depends of course on which age group; the primary parents are naturally more involved. When we offer excursions, which we do every trimester, then we would have more primary participation and parents are invited into the school to help out in special events like the trimester celebrations, listening to the kids perform and helping prepare for the fiestas events that are not just for the class but for the whole school. After primary where there is more involvement, it’s very individual. The parents are invited to school every 6 weeks for a parent-teacher meeting. The communication between parents and teachers is recommended on a regular basis. Aside from this, the parents of the older children tend to be far less involved.
How would you describe AIS in 3 words?
Unique, Nurturing, International