Touring Swiss boarding schools continued with yet more to be learned about these school options. Day 4 started with breakfast at Brillantmont, an English language school that offers both the British A-levels and the standard American high school diploma. Given their location, they have many students whose parents are working for multinationals as well as students from around the world who are looking for the opportunity to receive an English-language education in Switzerland. Sarah Frei, director of marketing and outreach, explained to our group that the three differentiating factors for them are their location, school size of 150 students which allows them to focus on the whole child, and personalized attention for students. While visiting the middle and high school sections, I was impressed to see so much student work decorating the walls of the classrooms and halls. Also a family-run school founded in 1882, their beautiful buildings reflect the architectural heritage from this time period. The locals thought they were crazy to build a school when the land was still in the countryside. Now the school’s drawing card is the fact that they are located in the city and thus able to take advantage of that location to offer additional opportunities to students for both learning and recreation. I had visited Brillantmont ten years ago and it was a great thrill to see their new underground, ultra-modern multi-purpose gymnasium and sports center as well as the renovations to some of the original structures.
Leaving the city behind again, we drove up to the German section of the Alps to see L’Ecole d’Humanite. This is a school I had wanted to see for years, having developed a strong relationship with their American director of admission, June Vinhateiro. As we arrived on the first day the students were back from spring break, we encountered them doing work detail around the school. It was so refreshing to see kids participating in a community activity without the need for close adult supervision or nagging – they knew they had a responsibility to the school and we knew we had arrived at someplace really different from the other schools on the tour. Characterized by its progressive and experiential approach to education, L’Ecole is a special place. The curriculum is American, but flexible enough to accommodate different kinds of students and needs. The school leadership, which is American, emphasizes student choice, participation and support. Students also do not receive grades, but rather narrative reports, and they go on to attend US, UK, and other European universities. Their new director, Michael May, just arrived with his family from New Mexico in 2014, bringing new energy to a school that has already been successful for over 60 years. In addition to our wonderful campus visit, we got to know him and a few other members of the staff better over dinner and were impressed by their vision, love, and enthusiasm for their school and students.
After an early morning departure, we headed for the beautiful valley of the Engadine in the far southeastern tip of Switzerland in the area where Romanish is spoken. We visited the school aptly named Lyceum Alpinum Zuoz, perched on top of the ridge above the charming village of Zuoz. It’s always great to arrive in time for lunch to see how the students eat, and we were not disappointed to see that the students were enjoying a well-balanced, home cooked hot meal in the historic dining room flooded with sunlight. The Lyceum offers both the IB diploma as well as the Swiss Matura diploma. Almost 30% of the student body are students from the local village, which makes this school spectacular. In addition to that, a student can also do the requirements for the German Abitur diploma, which is also a highly selective program. All students are thus well-prepared to attend universities throughout Europe, around the world, and the United States. Their American college counselor, Heather Cavatelli, like many of her other counterparts in these Swiss boarding schools, is very experienced in college counseling and is running a strong college counseling program. We enjoyed hearing from various members of the staff and leadership about the school and what makes them the most proud. Though isolated, they use their location as an advantage to keep the students focused on school, community, and sports. And within 15 minutes, one can be in the famous and glamorous town of St. Moritz. For the American student who wants to be immersed in an international setting without too many other Americans, this could be ideal.
The last stop on Saturday was at the Institute auf dem Rosenberg in St. Gallen. Situated on the top of the hill named after roses with expansive views of Lake Constance, this school has all the elegance of a fine finishing school for students who are looking for this kind of experience. There was an old-fashioned focus on manners to be ready to easily mix with other successful people that I personally found charming; and as a former ballroom dancing enthusiast, I was delighted to see that the students learn how to waltz while at the Institute. But lest you think that it’s a stuffy, old-fashioned place, it was also the school where our group had a very stimulating, honest, no-holds barred conversation about education, philosophy, purpose, and mission. I left with the very clear understanding that this is a place where the teachers and administrators care about their students deeply and will approach each student with as much patience as we could expect any professional to muster. The Institute has five curriculum offerings which includes the international section offering both A levels and an American curriculum, the German Abitur, Italian diploma, and Swiss Matura.
Our visit to the Institute auf dem Rosenberg was a wonderful way to end a fabulous week of touring 8 incredibly different and unique international boarding schools. It just goes to show once again how one absolutely cannot depend on websites to understand what a school is all about. There is no substitute for hitting the road, walking the campus, meeting the teachers and administrators, and most importantly, getting to know the students who experience life in these schools every day.