Coming full circle: Meet some of GEMS’ “boomerang alumni”

Have you ever thought that you could be teaching the next principal of your school or the next GEMS Education leader? These three GEMSters all went to GEMS schools as students, and are now staff members. Read more as these three ‘Boomerangers’ share their unique perspectives on coming back to where it all began.

Betty Anthony has got Our Own schools in her blood. Following the footsteps of her mother who taught at Our Own Dubai for 33 years, Betty graduated from Our Own Girls – Dubai in 1992 and boomeranged back to GEMS Our Own High School – Al Warqa’a in 2002 where she has been teaching for 20 years.

What is it like for you working in the same family of schools that you attended as a child?
For me, Our Own is like family. My family’s association with Our Own goes back 47 years, starting with my mother, Mrs. Magdalene Antony, she also started her career with the Our Own family in 1977 and worked there for 33 years. So I guess we’re double boomerangs! My mother never thought of leaving Our Own for any other school, because of the way Madam Varkey treated everyone in school like one big family, and it’s the same feeling I experience now as a teacher and as a parent. My two siblings and I attended Our Own, and when it came time for me to choose a school for my daughter, Saira, we didn’t have to think twice about which school to put her in. It was clearly GEMS Our Own English High School, Dubai. I had seen the way my mother taught, I also saw the way each and every support staff, admin, teacher, supervisor, head master, headmistress and principal worked to make each child the best possible version of themselves.

What did you want to be when you left school?
I wanted to be many things while growing up!  Having a journalism diploma degree, I was selected to join Gulf News but God had His plans and I was given the opportunity to join Our Own as a teacher.

My school days were filled with lots of fun and mischief. We students used to run around the building and be so mischievous that Madam Varkey had to run behind us with canes (most alumni from that time would never forget Madam Varkey and her cane!). The cane was not used to harm us but to guide us along the path that would lead us to be better and righteous humans.

When I thought of taking up teaching as a career I did have a lot of schools to choose from. But Our Own was my obvious choice. I was glad that it, too, opened its arms to welcome me back!

You’d clearly had a positive experience as a student, but what did Our Own Schools and GEMS offer you as a professional?  
Stability, care and growth.  Three things that I believe GEMS always stands up for.

What are your goals for 2021?
I’ve recently been promoted to Supervisor of Grades 4 and 5, and I’m thankful to the principal, Sanjeev Jolly, and all the leadership team for their support. Being an alumna, a parent and a faculty member, I’ve seen the schools move location, grow and adapt. My goal is to see the school and all its staff and students continue to grow with the same love and warmth that started it all.

Herve Thierry Arokiaraj graduated from GEMS Our Own English High School – Sharjah, Boys’ Branch in 2011, and then continued his studies in India. He is now back with GEMS as a French teacher at GEMS Millennium School – Sharjah.

Did you ever consider working for GEMS when you were at school?
Not at all! When I was at school my dream was to be either an animal psychiatrist or criminal psychologist, though I always had French as a secondary option because of my passion for the language. So when I left Our Own Boys in Grade 10, I didn’t think I’d be back at GEMS just seven years later.

What was it about GEMS that made you want to progress your career here.
This is my first teaching role. I joined GEMS Millennium School – Sharjah in 2018 after my post-graduate certificate and what I have found so beneficial is that GEMS always provides many opportunities for every member to grow and thrive. When I continued my studies in India I could feel the difference and realized more what GEMS has nurtured in me and I loved this. The continuous connect made this bond stronger and my love for the French language gave an opportunity to reunite with it.

What did you learn as a GEMS student that you apply as an employee?
The core values of discipline, passion and life-long learning that I learnt as a student has really helped me escalate my success in teaching and has shaped me into what I am today. There is no end to learning and I experience this as I constantly try to keep updating myself to merge into my children’s world to ‘explore’ the world together. Believe me, at times they are my little teachers, making me think and wonder with the kinds of questions they shoot at me. Now, I take great pride in saying that I am a GEMS facilitator and I thoroughly enjoy myself each day with new learning.

What surprised you about working for GEMS?
I knew GEMS would be a supportive environment, but I was genuinely surprised by the level of unwavering support and mentoring I have received at GMS. I would like to thank Thomas Mathew and Teresa Varman for their never-ending support.

What are your teaching goals for the year ahead?
My continuous goal is to let my students know that they are cared for, loved, and accepted as they are. 

Emily Ellington graduated from Jumeirah College in 2005. She went to university in the UK, and returned to GEMS in 2019, as Head of Inclusion.

When you left school what did you want to do?
At the time, I wasn’t sure. I wanted to be either an educational psychologist, a teacher or a lawyer – but I always knew I had a particular affinity for psychology. Both of my parents were teachers and head teachers, and so I think the educational direction was inevitable.

Did you ever think about working for GEMS when you were a student?
Not at all – in fact, school friends that I’m still in touch with think it’s hilarious! When I graduated from Jumeirah College in 2005, I returned to the UK for university. At that time, JC was one of a small handful of schools in the GEMS network – things have certainly changed a great deal since then!

What’s the best thing about working for GEMS as a GEMS alumna?
I think anyone who enjoyed their time at school always has a strong emotional connection to that setting. The GEMS brand was so prominent that for me (and I assume many other alumni), the connection was affiliated with GEMS and not just JC. Working within the organisation now feels like life has come full circle.

Do you think being a former student, gives you a different perspective on how you do your job? If so, how?
Without being too clichéd or obvious – I really understand what it’s like to be on the other side. I know how it feels to be an ex-pat child in an unfamiliar country, and I can vividly recall so many of the initiatives and opportunities GEMS provided, and how they made me feel. Those experiences give you a different perspective on things and enable you to truly empathise with today’s students.

What was it about GEMS that made you want to progress your career here?
In all honestly, I wasn’t actively seeking employment at all – let alone employment in the Middle East or GEMS specifically. I was very happy in my role as Head of SEND & Inclusion for a local authority but the opportunity came across my desk serendipitously; shown to me by a colleague who knew I had grown up in Dubai. I couldn’t believe the role when I saw it, and instantly felt as though it was meant to be – and clearly, it was!