Austria is home to one of the most educated populations on the continent and one of the wealthiest countries in Europe. Vienna, the country’s capital, is beautiful, historical, and well connected to both western and central Europe. The city is regularly voted as the #1 city with the best quality life in the world. In a nutshell, Vienna has everything expats need to relish a quality of life in a home away from home.
The American International School · Vienna is one of the premier schools in the country. At AIS Vienna, students are empowered with the skills and character strengths necessary to be positively impactful global citizens who strive for personal growth and excellence in an ever-changing world.
We, at The Knowledge Review magazine were fortunate to get the opportunity to interview Kathryn Miner (DEd.) the Director of AIS Vienna. Kathryn gave us insights about the story of AIS Vienna and also about what is the AIS experience like.
Here are a few excerpts from the interview:
Kindly brief us about your esteemed school, its infrastructure, its history, and journey since inception.
The American International School · Vienna (AIS Vienna) was founded in September of 1959. Enrolment at that time was 234 students representing 17 nationalities. We now serve about 800 students with over 60 nationalities from Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12 (IB Diploma or American Diploma). We are the oldest English-language school in Austria, offering a unique combination of a nurturing, family atmosphere with a challenging educational environment backed by a history of academic achievement. School programs focus on academics, but also on the development of students’ creative and leadership abilities and emotional intelligence.
AIS is located in the Neustift-am-Walde area of Vienna, adjacent to the famous Vienna Woods, and provides an instructional setting in the midst of the physical beauty of the surrounding hills, forest, and countryside. On our 11-acre (4.5 hectare) premises there are seven interconnected buildings housing elementary, middle, and high schools.
Overall, there are more than 70 classrooms, eight science labs, art studios, music rooms, two libraries, a theatre, an outdoor classroom, two gyms, a sports field, a fun court, a cafeteria, a health unit, and a separate sports hall (which houses three indoor tennis courts or two basketball courts or ten badminton courts).
Through our 1:1 laptop program, which will continue to expand, all students in grades four through 12 already have a take-home personal computer. All classrooms have ceiling-mounted video projectors and interactive white boards — touch-sensitive screens that replace the traditional chalkboard and facilitate digital manipulation of images and text.
At AIS Vienna computers are seen as a necessary tool for teaching and learning.
The city of Vienna, regularly voted as the #1 city with the best quality of life in the world, makes up our ‘extended campus’ with frequent trips to its various museums and cultural offerings.
Kindly tell us about the academic and extra-curricular programs at your school. In what way are they different to those in other schools?
In the Elementary and Middle Schools (MS), the curriculum ensures that all students learn a coherent and unified body of knowledge and academic skills.
High School (HS) students follow a challenging college-preparatory curriculum that leads to a US High School Diploma, with the option of pursuing the International Baccalaureate Diploma.
All AIS Vienna students receive individual academic advice and help, and High School students receive extensive college counselling in their junior and senior years.
AIS Vienna offers an inclusive athletics program with ten competitive sports of varying levels across three athletic seasons plus a comprehensive clubs and after-school activities program including arts, music, language, athletic, service learning, and technology opportunities. When the school day ends at 3:15 PM, a new extracurricular world begins.
The AIS After School Activity Program offers students the opportunity to participate in guided, engaging activities that complement and enhance the curriculum that guides their daily education. Students are able to interact with friends and students from different grade levels while participating in a wide range of activities. The program also offers after school care for parents.
Our MS and HS students also have the opportunity to join or create their own activities and clubs. Activities have a set ‘season’ and have, at least, one cumulating event.
Since 1959, we have offered opportunities for students to take part in activities and travel beyond the borders of our host city and country. Now, 61 years later, this is just one of the many ways we continue to supplement our curriculum with athletic and educational activities, allowing for learning to take place well beyond the traditional classroom walls.
Please brief us about the featured personality (Director) behind the success of the school, and how he/she has helped enhance the outreach and development of your reputed institution.
Dr. Kathryn Miner started her position as Director of AIS Vienna in August 2020 and right away undertook the heavy task of creating a new student-centred 5-year strategic plan to continue AIS Vienna’s journey to excellence, focusing on 4 strategic priority areas:
- Teaching & Learning: Empowering students to strive for personal growth and excellence.
- Character & Community: Cultivating ethical, purposeful and balanced citizens of a diverse community.
- Facilities: Creating spaces to support innovative learning.
- Finance: Stewarding resources to support current and future students.
She also spear-headed major updates to the school’s mission, vision, and core values, as well as implementation of a new technology vision and philosophy.
Prior to taking over as Director at AIS Vienna, Dr. Miner served as the Director of GEMS American Academy Abu Dhabi. Before that, she was the Middle School Director of the American School of Paris. She has also served as a High School Principal in Oregon, USA. Her accomplishments at GEMS and the American School of Paris are evidence of her goal-focused approach and demonstrate her ability to get things done and effectuate positive growth. Dr. Miner’s achievements at the schools she has led are impressive; however, it was not these accomplishments alone that excited the AIS community about her coming to Vienna. Dr. Miner’s presence, focus on students, and enthusiasm for her role as Director is absolutely infectious. AIS Vienna has benefitted greatly from Dr. Miner bringing her expertise and positive energy to the school and community.
How do you help your students prepare for their future participation in the world? Do you have any special clubs/initiatives/facilities for the same?
The AIS Vienna High School Counselling Office is committed to working with students and families, providing a holistic approach with supportive services. Their objective is to address the needs of students in the four main domains that impact an international student- academic, socio-emotional, postsecondary planning and global-perspective.
The school offers comprehensive university counselling services for students, as well as career fairs and networking opportunities with parents and alumni in professional fields.
Students leave AIS with a head start in life: a tight-knit global network of 14,000 alumni that has been growing for 60 years and counting. This is a network of friendship, trust, and opportunity that provides returns to its members for decades after graduation. AIS Vienna Alumni live by the motto “Once a Knight, always a Knight” and offer networking and support opportunities for all students and graduates of AIS.
Please mention your school’s most notable achievements, accolades, accreditations, and awards.
AIS Vienna is the oldest English-language school in Austria, being 61 years old.
During the 2020-2021 school year, we were thrilled to celebrate 44 years as an IB World School. AIS has been an IB World School since 1977, just nine years after the IB Diploma Program began. We were the 72nd IB school to be authorized, now out of almost 5,000 schools worldwide. We are one of the most experienced IB schools in our region (Africa, Europe, and the Middle East) and the single most experienced IB school in Austria.
In addition to scoring the highest IB results in Vienna, our students do things like perform at Carnegie Hall. Our challenging curriculum is designed to be university preparatory, our results in international examinations are consistently above average, and our alumni go on to the world’s top universities.
- IB World School
- Accredited by the Council of International Schools
- Accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
- Recognized by the Austrian Ministry of Education
Covid-19 has put additional strain as well as responsibility on the education sector in terms of online educational trends, hygiene, and safety precautions. How did you prepare and safeguard your students for the same?
As with many schools, the challenges of the current world health situation have been many. AIS Vienna has continued to adapt as restrictions in Vienna have allowed, continuing to offer high quality educational programs in a variety of ways throughout this school year (on-campus learning, Hybrid Learning, and Distance Learning).
AIS is uniquely prepared to manage the ever-changing Covid-19 context and adapt to a sense of new normal by way of our American/IB educational approach and philosophy, which supports students’ creative, adaptive, and problem-solving skills. Like our students, our leaders, teachers, and staff are similarly trained to adapt and adjust to the needs of our students, regardless of the model of learning delivery, whether inside of the classroom or across virtual platforms, while maintaining strong relationships and connection.
School staff also continue to remain available should there be any specific concerns about the emotional wellbeing of students. Counsellors and staff across the school are actively sharing information about the social and emotional concerns that may arise during a situation that is capturing so much of the world’s attention.
What are the future prospects of your renowned school?
Not only is AIS Vienna located in the beautiful greenery of the Vienna Woods, but in recent years, the school has made sustainability part of its identity.
“Environmental friendliness is not only part of classroom learning across all divisions, but it is also part of the learning that takes place outside our formal curriculum in various student clubs and activities.” said Benjamin Kuscher, AIS Vienna Business Manager.
Some higher profile projects that have taken place include:
- Solar Panels on Roofing providing CO2 free electricity
- Olive seeds have replaced micro plastics on the sports field
- Conscious efforts have been made to reduce the use of plastics in the Cafeteria.
- Where possible only local products are used to reduce transport and CO2 emissions.
- A cloud printing system was implemented to limit overuse of paper saving the trees and forests.
Setting a Standard for the Future
Future AIS Vienna Sustainability Initiatives:
- Creation of green roofing
- Environmentally friendly climate control for classrooms, along with more solar panels to further offset our carbon footprint.
- New outdoor facilities to continue connecting students to nature and ensure that this is part of their learning.
At the start of this school year AIS Vienna opened an Elementary School Science and Innovation Lab. Over the course of this summer the space will continue to be updated ensuring that the school is meeting the needs of current and future students.