Starting school can be a daunting experience for any child, but when six-year-old Areej Fatima enrolled at a primary school last year, she had a few former students on hand to ease her anxiety. When Areej walked through the gates of GEMS Our Own English High School, Dubai, she was following the well-trodden footsteps of two generations of her own family.
Not only did her mother Sidra Rashid, now an English teacher at GEMS New Millennium School attend the same school, but her grandmother Ghazala Dhar has been a teacher at the school for 33 years.
‘I enjoy seeing ‘nanno’ in corridor’
Areej said: “In 60 days, I will be in Grade 1. My favourite activities are painting, drawing and colouring and I love attending the bumblebee classes.” Like a lot of students her age, Areej does love going to school, but she also enjoys the good fortune of bumping into her grandmother in the school’s corridor.
“I do bump into my granddaughter at school sometimes,” said Ghazala, an Urdu teacher at the school for 33 years. She laughed adding, “Now, all the children in her class call me nanno (grandma) as well.” Sidra, Areej’s mother, joined the school in the 1988-89 academic-year and studied till Grade 8. “After which I moved to Westminster Dubai to pursue my O-levels,” she added.
Areej said: “I’ve had some incredibly pleasant memories in the school. I will never forget my KG teacher Mrs Uma Thattai. It was raining heavily and I went to play and ended up losing my spectacles. Despite having been mischievous, she consoled me and made me feel much better.”
‘It’s tough to have mom as teacher’
Sidra admits that having her mother as a teacher was more tough than easy. “She would be harder on me as compared to the other students, and I found it very hard to pass her classes,” she said. Sidra’s mother Ghazala joined the school as an Islamic Studies and Urdu teacher on November 13, 1984, when the school’s founder Mariamma Varkey was taking care of the school administration.
“The school was very accommodating as I had three girl children and the school has continued to be supportive and taken very good care of my family. In times of dire need, Madame Varkey herself has come forward and supported me. I’ve seen the institution grow from small porter cabins to the big campus that it is today,” said Ghazala. Sidra’s experience as a student is also one of the main reasons she decided to start working as an English teacher at the GEMS New Millennium School.
She added: “Many former students come back to visit and many of them have their own children studying in the same school.” Sidra and Ghazala stated that not only did the family consciously decide to enroll Areej, but she herself chose to be in the school. “When she was four-years-old, I took her to the school for a visit. She instantly told me that she wants to go to this school,” said Sidra.
School marking 50th year
The school, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, has been decked and prepared for year-long celebrations. Furthermore, it is taking special efforts to reach out to alumni and families who have spent over 30 years in the same establishment.
The school opened its doors to students for the first time in 1968. “The earlier campus of the school was in Al Bastakiya, then we shifted to a bigger campus in Oud Metha. and now, we’re 10,000 girls strong in Al Warqa,” said Thomas Mathew, the executive principal. “The school alumni achievements are vis-à-vis achievements of Dubai,” he added.
“As part of the celebrations, the school plans on burying a time capsule in the school campus, which they will open after 25 years,” explained Mathew. Former students can register for the upcoming 50th-anniversary event on the school website http://www.gemsoo-dubai.com/ under the alumni registration section.