With Reopening of School in Kuwait, Officials Hope for Return to Normalcy

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The American School of Kuwait reopened this month with hopes for a return to normalcy after the ravages of the Iraqi occupation and Persian Gulf war.

"We thought it was important to start on Sept. 1 ," the school's new superintendent, Donald Holt, said last week in a telephone interview from Kuwait.

Less than a year ago, the classrooms and hallways of the American School were occupied by the invading soldiers of Iraq.

Because of the school's proximity to Kuwait City and the Persian Gulf shore, the Iraqi forces who took over the country in August 1990 turned the private institution's facilities into a defensive stronghold against a feared counterattack by the American-led coalition that formed in Kuwait's behalf.

"It was near enough to the beach, and they expected an Allied landing there," explained Mr. Holt, who has been employed by the school for 10 years but was out of the country when the Iraqis invaded.

"Also, a school makes an ideal place for a barracks," he added.

Before the invasion, the school served close to 300 American students. Few American dependents have returned to Kuwait since the emirate's liberation in late February, but Mr. Holt predicted they would within a year or two.

Most American workers in Kuwait, such as those working on large reconstruction projects or fighting the oil-well fires set by the Iraqis, are "on bachelor status," Mr. Holt said.

"But there will be long-term projects," he said, "and I expect we will have an influx of American children into the school."

Now Three American Schools

The American School of Kuwait was one of two American-curriculum private schools in the emirate that, before the Gulf crisis, served the children of diplomats and businessmen from the United States and other countries. Both were closed for the 1990-91 school year.

The other school, the Universal American School, which before the invasion enrolled about 125 Americans, also reopened this month.

And the Modern American School, a new institution serving the international community, is to open this week, Mr. Holt said.

Many of the American educators working in Kuwait and their pupils from the United States were out of the emirate on vacation at the time of the invasion. But others made dramatic escapes from the Iraqis or were trapped in the region until President Saddam Hussein released all remaining Westerners last December. (See Education Week, Sept. 5, 1990, and Feb. 27, 1991 .)

Now, as Kuwait continues what is likely to be a lengthy process of reconstruction, there are more native born pupils and far fewer dependents of foreign workers attending the American-curriculum schools.

As of last week, the American School had enrolled about 400 students, said Mr. Holt, compared with the pre-invasion enrollment of more than a thousand. Many of the current students are natives of Kuwait or other Arab countries.

"We have a higher percentage of Kuwaiti students here than we ever had," Mr. Holt said. Many spent the last academic year abroad, attending schools in Britain or the United States. Now their parents want them to continue under a Western style curriculum, Mr. Holt said.

"We think we will probably double by next year, and be back to the 1,100 we had" before the war, he said.

Campus Was 'Trashed'

The American School of Kuwait, which until the invasion had separate elementary and secondary campuses just outside Kuwait City, suffered some damage from the occupation and the coalition offensive. All grades are combined this year at the secondary campus.

The lower-school campus "was trashed unbelievably," Mr. Holt said. When they first returned to the country in May, school leaders found kicked-in doors and many windows replaced by cinder- blocks.

"We found some explosives in the building, but most of those were hand grenades," Mr. Holt said.

A scarcity of skilled laborers-many Palestinians who had held such jobs have left the emirate since the restoration of the Kuwaiti government--has made it difficult for the school to complete needed repairs.

Most of the school's teachers--37 out of 44--are American, including a dozen who returned to their old jobs. One teacher who returned was a detainee until last December. "The fact that most of us were willing to come back to a country that was ravaged I think speaks well of the school and of the country," Mr. Holt said.

The new superintendent spent the last academic year working for a school district in his native Utah.

Now, Mr. Holt said, he and his wife "feel like we are back home again."

"I was lucky enough the other day to find one of my cars," he said. "One of my neighbors hid it for me during the occupation. He just showed up [back in Kuwait] and told me where it was."

'Upbeat' in Saudi Arabia

Elsewhere in the Middle East, other private schools serving American students also report that they are trying to put the Gulf war behind them.

"It is back to normal pretty much everywhere," said Jacqueline Turner, executive vice president of International Schools Services, a Princeton, N.J.-based nonprofit organization that aids American schools overseas.

Daryle Russell, superintendent of the Saudi Arabian International School in Riyadh, said educators there were "upbeat and enthusiastic about the prospects for the new year."

The school finished the last academic year with about 1,400 students, below its pre-crisis enrollment of more than 2,000, but much improved over the low of 375 "when the Scuds were coming into Riyadh and just about all who could left the city," Mr. Russell said.

Vol. 11, Issue 03, Page 11

Published in Print: September 18, 1991, as With Reopening of School in Kuwait, Officials Hope for Return to Normalcy
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