American Community School

American Community School: Preparing Students to be Strong Community Leaders

The American Community School (ACS) has been providing K-12 education to students since 1955 and, since its inception, ACS has continued to provide innovative and effective instruction to their students.

Since its inception in 1955, the American Community School (ACS) continues to be a leading educational institution in Jordan. Technology, innovation, and design thinking are at the forefront of its curriculum promoting learning as not only an imperative, but also a fun and exciting journey that continues beyond the confines of the classroom.

In highlighting education in this month’s issue of  Venture, we sat down with Larry McIlvain, the American Community School (ACS) Superintendent, to talk about how ACS is adapting to the increasing demand for youth to learn skills pertaining to the digital world and what they think is essential in providing students with a holistic educational experience.

You say that “our task, as a school, is to find how your child learns best and to tailor our instruction to your child’s specific needs.” In what way has The American Community School (ACS) accomplished this and what else would you like to incorporate into ACS’s curriculum to ensure the needs of your students are met? 

The easiest answer to this question is to highlight the focus ACS puts on providing a diverse learning environment.  Ideally, we strive to differentiate instruction at all levels, which means building on students’ strengths.

Elementary students have specialist teachers for art, music, and physical education, which allow students to explore various talents they may have.

Our middle school and high school programs both offer and require students to explore their interest and to push themselves in ways they never thought possible.  This too, includes helping students find out how they best learn, finding their passions, and supporting their interests.

What skills do children need to be learning now (in the elementary, middle school and high school levels) in order to be prepared for the workforce in the future? 

These skills, which are a significant focus in our program, and the core of our work, are outlined in the ACS Student Profile.  Regardless of what grades a student earns, if we haven’t built a solid foundation in these areas then we have failed as a school.

What we strive to do is offer students a range of opportunities in the arts, sports, academics, social, and environmental spheres, opportunities to give back to the community, to communicate new, interesting, and sometimes controversial ideas to an unfamiliar audience and to have confidence while presenting.

We believe these are the skills that will help students be successful in life. The curriculum we teach is an avenue to provide opportunities to develop the characteristics of our Student Profile.

With digital technology dominating how businesses conduct work, how is ACS instilling technological adeptness in their students at an early age?

Quick answer…it is not about the machines.  The use of technology, with a focus on learning, is ingrained in our school culture.  We have incorporated the International Society for Technology in Education standards that guide our work and support our efforts in what is truly a very complicated journey.

How is The American Community School (ACS) continuously training teachers in order to keep up with the latest teaching practices and innovations within their field?

I believe one of the hallmarks of ACS is the commitment to an ongoing training of our staff.   We seek to hire great teachers who have a proven record in the classroom and then support them to get even better.

As research shows, the single most important factor in a students’ success is the teacher.  Not the facilities. Not the supplies. Not the technology.  The teacher!  ACS hires certified teachers who have been through rigorous teacher training programs.

There is a clearly outlined, established, and communicated set of performance standards to ensure accountability, and deep conversations about what ACS is looking for in teachers as outlined in our Teacher Profile.

We call this our Professional Feedback and Growth process because that is what we expect our staff to be doing…growing professionally.

We continually assess our teacher performance and provide support where/if needed. My goals is that when/if a teacher leaves ACS they will leave being much better at their craft as a result of their time at ACS.

In the American education system there has been debate on whether a strong focus on STEM undermines the value that the arts and social sciences provide for students. How has The American Community School (ACS) focused their curriculum in order to offer students a wholesome educational experience? And where do you see arts and social science within the scope of education?

One of our core beliefs presented in our Mission Statement is that: “We believe well-rounded individuals are prepared to adjust to a rapidly- changing world.”

The arts and social sciences are key components to being well-rounded.  Students at ACS are required to take courses in the arts and social sciences and we provide multiple opportunities to explore their interest, talents, and skills in these areas.

With the new addition of a 500-seat tech theater, a new drama/choir space, band room, movie production and recording studio, we hope to raise our levels of both opportunities but also quality in the arts.

Additionally, we yearly add new and engaging opportunities for students to explore areas in the social sciences. These include our participation in the recent ACS hosted Compassion Summit with about 140 students from around the world participating, involvement in the Global Social Entrepreneurs Summit in India, and plans to host our own GSES in October 2017, supporting our young learners in being socially active and having a heart for people.

We are also involved in other more common activities and events such as Model United Nations, International Schools Theater Association and choir festivals, and through our international activities league (SAISA), numerous arts and sport opportunities that take students to similar international schools in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Oman, and India.

Advanced Placement (AP) courses have been a huge component within American high school education. If ACS students do not plan on applying to U.S. universities for college, will other international universities recognize these courses? 

Yes.  AP courses are recognized at over 3,600 colleges and universities in the US and   abroad. Universities in over 60 countries recognize the AP and offer credit for successful course work completed. Additionally, The College Board, who oversees the A.P. and S.A.T. programs, has recently launched the “AP Capstone” that is their equivalent to the IB Diploma.

The American Community School (ACS) was one of about 100 schools to pilot this over the last few years.  The Capstone has added a level of depth and rigor to the AP program that we find exciting as it fits well into our Student Profile and supporting the kind of students we are aspiring to produce and mold.

The American Community School (ACS) has been open since 1955. Why do you think it has been such a successful educational institution and how do you see it continuing with its success in the future? 

We strive to always see students not as they are but what they can become.  We care about their success and try to be great partners with their parents in pursuing success.

We set high standards for student performance, we expect much from them but do so in an environment where students feel respected, valued, and part of the journey. We want students to be an active participant in their learning and not just passive recipients of information that has little value or worth to their “real life”.

We want learning to be meaningful.  We want students to see the relevancy and meaning of their learning. Every day, in every class we strive to offer a product that, as one of my favorite catch phrases states, makes learning irresistible.

Our goal is not to prepare students to go to the next grade level, or to get straight A’s, or to do well on a test, or even to get into their “dream” college.  Our goal, as our Mission says, is to: Inspire individuals to become self-motivated learners and compassionate citizens who demonstrate respect, act with integrity, and seek intellectual growth in a culture of high expectations.

If our students characterize the tenants of our Mission then I feel we have successfully “educated” them.