Dionne Pinkett Foy: Nurturing future global citizens with life skills
Al Wahda Private
Dionne Pinkett Foy | Ed.S | Executive Principal

Education goes beyond academic excellence and career growth. Today’s students are tomorrow’s global citizens. Al Wahda Private (Athena Education) in Sharjah is not just another school providing quality education for the citizens of tomorrow. It goes beyond education and aims to produce future citizens holistically, nurturing life skills essential to respect fellow human beings, value diversity and develop their character. Dionne Pinkett Foy, Ed.S, Executive Principal who is committed to produce responsible citizens of the society realised the need for empowering and enlightening students with necessary skill sets during the initial days of her career. A native of Atlanta Georgia in the United States of America, she has been in education for 21 years as a teacher and educational leader both nationally and internationally.

The Knowledge Review had the opportunity to learn more about the school and its mentor.

The Journey

Dionne has been a principal in the UAE since 2014 with both the Ministry of Education and the private sector. An Education Specialist in Educational Leadership, certified as a Principal, she also has a diploma in IB. Her main focus has been on special education.

At the beginning of her career, she and her tean piloted the Bright from the Start early literacy program. It focused on early literacy in students starting at age three. Developing early literacy skills makes it easier for children to learn to read. Such children have an advantage that goes with them throughout their school years.

Dionne continued my career as a special education teacher in elementary and middle school in Charlotte, NC and Atlanta, Ga where she held leadership positions in governing the Special Education Services and piloted parent universities, compliance forums for school personnel and district leads, student support programming to close the achievement gap, and specialized curriculum to ensure free public school education to all.

In the UAE, she has been training rising school leaders at the principal level, developed a district-wide professional learning communities for Academic Vice Principal to assist leaders to navigate the system and share best practices in helping to lead the UAE national agenda to greater heights. She then transitioned to the private sector where we established a solid name in the Sharjah community as a school that has reformed and transformed education in the American curriculum.

AWPS students are capable to meet any challenge which encompasses Advance Placement courses. After one year of introductory of AP courses, one-third of the high school students enrolled in higher level coursework.

Passion for Educating

Being in education had always been Dionne’s passion. She is thankful to her parents who were always a driving force in enrolling her in programs that supported her calling. She understood her purpose in life to teach, lead and explore internationally very early.  She quickly discovered how fortunate her family was to have access to so many resources and realized  how others around her could not afforded the same education opportunities.

The primary motivation driving her education career forward was the long-term impact education can have on the lives of all students – particularly those from challenging families that cannot provide their children with the same opportunities.

Mum’s the Word

Growing up in the inner city of Atlanta, her access to a good education was not always a guarantee. But she had a powerful advocate in her mother, Dorothy who stepped in to help wherever she could—holding fundraisers for new classroom equipment, serving as a classroom parent or Girl Scouts Leader, throwing appreciation dinners for her overworked teachers, and lobbying on her behalf whenever she sensed standards were slipping. She made sure Dionne was learning her multiplication tables and planetary systems, while her actions instilled in her a sense of her own worth: that her voice, talents, and ambition mattered. Dorothy embodied these standards for her daughters to ensure that their futures were brighter than hers.

Dionne shares that she wants every girl on this planet to have the same opportunities that she had. “More than 98 million adolescent girls around the world are not in school. Girls who extend their schooling have healthier, happier lives and the whole world benefits”, she says.

Her oldest sister Doris was another huge influence on her. “Just through observation, she taught me about excelling above and pushing against the odds. She gave me some of my earliest lessons in self-discipline and good old-fashioned debate,” she recollects.


In Athena Education, the philosophy is rooted in the values of humility, tolerance and integrity. With these values Athena Education seeks to develop learners who have choice, and take care of themselves, their communities and the environment both locally and internationally. “Our curriculum provides all learners with opportunities to develop self-confidence, be innovative, creative and enable them to achieve at the highest level so that they can apply their learning in a variety of different and challenging contexts,” she explains, as once quoted by her role model Michelle Obama.

All achievements are set in the context of a nurturing, safe and secure learning environment, in which students are challenged, guided, listened to and given choices which strengthen the values of their families, the community and the UAE.

Students can express opinions and ask questions to discover truth for themselves. Every type of talent is rewarded.

“We serve approximately 1000 students and families providing a true American curriculum through Common Core Standards. We are a leading K-12 school teaching American curriculum school which focus on 5 pathways: Medicine, Engineering, Business, Government, and Art to lead our student to great success in university and career readiness. As a National Curriculum Authority accredited school with Cognia (AdvancEd) our education meets all the quality requirements based on internationally recognized standards of that educational board,” she adds.

The school prepares students with knowledge and skills that are required to develop themselves as independent entrepreneurs, who take responsibility of their learning and life, while contributing to the society.

“We believe that, the true purpose of education is not only for our students to excel academically but also to develop their characters. We offer our students the opportunity to study and work together with others from different cultures and backgrounds to evolve as pro-active global citizens of the world,” she says.

Changing Faces of Education

The pandemic has changed the face of education forever. Overnight educational institutes were ordered to be closed but education did not grind to a halt rather it transformed and moved online.

“Fortunately, in our school technology was already a big part of the teaching and learning process. The new academic year threw another curve ball to us in the form of blended learning that combines online educational material and opportunities for interaction with traditional place-based classroom methods. It requires the physical presence of both teacher and students. We have successfully managed both. “We could not have done this without the support and collaboration of our parents and community partners”, says Dionne.

Education for All

‘No child left behind’ is a personal motto as well as the goal of the Athena Group. We include all students in every sphere. Athena has spearheaded the movement in bringing education to the less privileged students. A large number of students from Bangladesh were given free education in one of our schools. In addition, some tuition and book scholarships and reduced fees were provided to families in the community hit hard by the impact of COVID-19.

Change for Better

As an educator, Dionne would like to see more accountability in the students where they are willing to try and be accountable for both their success and defeat. One effort that the country’s government has enacted is the requirement for all graduating males to attend military. This approach has begun to change the mind set of students and make them a part of their success. She would also like to see an influx on parent workshops to support parents throughout the academic year from a district level.

For the Budding Educators

“I would like to tell them to dream big. There are no shortcuts to any place worth going. Walk ahead with determination and kindness and the world will be your oyster. Treat each child as an individual and follow the interests of the class. Allow flexibility, creativity and fun to be part of your classroom. Do not impose stereotypical models,” Dionne advises.

She also suggests that they find a mentor; someone willing to share their experience. “You do not have to reinvent the wheel to be a great teacher – there is a lot to learn from other’s experiences.”

Form positive relationships with the students, staff and entire school community, celebrate and reflect the smallest of successes.

The Future

The school will continue to make strides in restructuring educational norms as it relates to the national agenda for the UAE. The school is challenging itself to close the gap in student achievement across the UAE. Classes will be filled with students eager to explore the vast opportunities that improved career readiness elective courses and Advanced Placement courses have to offer to set them up for their immediate future in university and career. Dionne wants to launch an alliance with countries around the globe, which empowers girls internationally through education.

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