As we approach the 2009 graduation at Deerfield, over in Jordan, another school year is coming to a close. The King’s Academy, founded by his majesty King Abdullah II ’80, will soon have completed its second full school year. The school has made tremendous progress since its start in the fall of 2007, proving that an academy modeled after a New England prep school can flourish in the Middle East.
Indeed, many facets of Deerfield life are reflected on the Jordan school’s campus. The class schedule is nearly identical, and the dining hall and school meeting routines resemble Deerfield’s own community-centered gatherings. Even the lawns, which English Teacher Suzanne Hannay noted as being “like grass on steroids,” mimic Deerfield’s pristine quads.
However, in spite of the school’s similarities to Deerfield, Ms. Hannay, who taught English at King’s last year, admitted, “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.” The experience required her to “rethink the whole idea of teaching.” She added, “It was a situation I thought I was prepared for, I thought I knew what I was getting into… But I had no idea. If you asked me in September if I wanted to go home, I would have said yes.”
Yet despite a somewhat discouraging start, Ms. Hannay “hated to leave” when the end of the 2008-2009 school year arrived.
A couple of members from the class of 2008 have also chosen to spend time at King’s Academy, working as gap year assistant. Joe Zych ’08, who has been coaching the debate team and helping out in the theater department and dorm, shares Ms. Hannay’s initial concerns about the school, but also recognizes its potential.
“The biggest obstacle the school seems to be facing is its age,” Zych remarked, “there are still kinks being worked out, both on a grand scale and in day-to-day life, but as each day passes, it seems there are fewer dress code violations and more students picking up litter around campus.”
Another major challenge that confronts King’s Academy students is what Ms. Hannay describes as “an effort to get into the competitive mode at the same level of Deerfield students.”
And if King’s Academy is in fact intended to meet Deerfield’s high caliber, it has a long way to go. When eight King’s students returned to Jordan from their day-long trip at Deerfield last year, Ms. Hannay explained that “they came back with a sense of how it was done. They spread the word like wildfire, that if they wanted to compete, they would have to change the way they acted in class.”
With this incentive in mind, the school is in need of developing its own identity. Zych explained, “While there are certainly similarities to Deerfield, King’s is trying to move away from the notion of ‘Deerfield in the Desert.’ It is important to remember that while Deerfield is there for support, KA has very different goals than Deerfield, and therefore needs to be its own school.”
Still, regardless of the difficult tasks that may lie ahead, Zych noted that “progress is definitely being made.”
And this progress is often the product of enthusiastic and inspirational characters like Zych and Ms. Hannay. Both attest to the fact that the opportunity to work there, while daunting and certainly different from life at Deerfield, is extremely rewarding.
Ms. Hannay remarked, “Just to get yourself to the region, to the Middle East, is crucial. You have to be a member of the world, you need to get there. You end up talking to country club kids from Amman as well as kids who live in Bedouin tents.”
Because King’s welcomes “students of any race, color, creed, special need or national origin,” Zych found that he has been able to immerse himself “in a culture so different from my own,” an experience which he noted, “will deeply impact my life for decades to come.”
It is this mix of cultural diversity and ambitious ideals that make the King’s Academy a challenging, but unique institution.
His Majesty King Abdullah II is currently in Washington, D.C. meeting with President Obama. Five of the King’s Academy students and several of Queen Raina’s Academy students traveling with the King will visit Deerfield briefly this Friday, April 24th.