Last week I had the opportunity to visit eight Swiss boarding schools with a group of American educational consultants on a tour organized by fabulous admissions teams at TASIS and Leysin American School with the cooperation of other schools that form part of Swiss Learning. I had done this trip ten years ago, so for me it was a chance to revisit some of the excellent options in Swiss boarding schools while also getting to know four new schools.
Our fabulous organizers and guides were the international admissions directors, Marc Pierre Jansen from TASIS and Paul Dyer of Leysin, who safely took us from Lugano, in the Italian part of Switzerland, to the French-speaking part of high Alpine country, to Lausanne along the shores of Lake Geneva, back to the German part of the Alps, then to the Romanish-speaking part of the Engadine Valley, ending in the beautiful city of St. Gallen.
Not only did we experience stunning scenery under exceptionally sunny skies, but we got to know eight entirely different schools; each with their own culture, curriculum, history, student body, and ethos making them excellent options for students from around the world. But like any other school placement, it is important to find the right match. Here is a brief snapshot of the schools we saw and what we learned:
TASIS stands for The American School in Switzerland. Founded by Mrs. Mary Christ Fleming in 1949, it has grown into a premier international school offering a choice of either the International Baccalaureate diploma or the American high school diploma with Advanced Placement classes. I last visited the school ten years ago and had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Fleming and see the master plan for expanding and improving the school. Mrs. Fleming passed away at the age of 98 a few years ago, but her daughter, Lynn Fleming Aeschliman, is now the chairman of the board and shares the same passion and vision for the school as her mother. The master plan is being fulfilled, and the campus has several new purpose built buildings constructed in the classical Italianate style in keeping with the architectural heritage of the region. I was very pleased to see the school has grown in such positive ways – stronger students, dedicated faculty, parents, and alumni, broader offerings, and an overall strong program.
Leysin American School was our next stop. We arrived late at night, so when I opened the curtains the first morning there the view of the snow-capped Alps against the azure sky outside my room once again took my breath away. These views are common from most classrooms and dormitory windows, and I wondered if the students ever took such magnificence for granted. During the winter, they take advantage of their Alpine location by skiing two afternoons a week as part of the school program, and as one would expect, Leysin offers a variety of winter sports teams, too. New for me was the acquisition of the Belle Époque campus and its renovation to be the Upper School for the International Baccalaureate program. Formerly a sanitarium built in the early 1900s for wealthy patients seeking fresh clean mountain air to escape the scourge of tuberculosis, it has been renovated into a new, state-of-the-art campus with classrooms, labs, a library, art studios, and dormitories. It was also a joy to see the Ott family firmly at the helm of the school’s leadership. I have known them for over ten years, and like the Flemings, the Ott family members are outstanding educators, visionaries, and leaders. Dr. Steven and Doris Ott welcomed us into their home one evening, and the senior Mrs. Sigrid Ott, now in her late 90s, also graciously conversed with the members of our group and smiled patiently for all the photos we wanted to take. She is a legend, and it was her and her husband’s vision that led to the founding of the school in the late 1940s. As I left, I took her hand and asked her if she ever thought of how many lives they have touched through the years with their wonderful school. Once again, I felt like I was in the presence of human greatness, just as I had felt while at TASIS.
The next morning we visited Aiglon, meaning the young eagle. I have wanted to visit Aiglon for many years, so was delighted by this opportunity. This school has educated many of the children of the world’s rich and famous but what impressed me was how the school kept the students grounded and focused on character. Offering a British curriculum as well as the IB diploma, they offer a unique outdoor adventure component that is designed to develop character, team work, and concrete mountaineering skills. But lest you think it is only an outdoorsy school, I was also impressed to see that over 270 individual music lessons are offered each year to interested students, highlighting the focus on the visual and performing arts as well as academics. The international students of Aiglon go on to study in some of the finest universities in the UK, US, and around the world. Patience Fanella-Koch is their American college counselor, well-known in the Overseas Association of College Admissions Counselors for her role on the board and in other volunteer positions.
Our last stop on day 3 was Le Rosey in Rolle, Switzerland. Known for being a school for some of the world’s most elite families, it offers a strong academic program through the IB diploma. We enjoyed seeing their new award-winning and ultra-modern performing arts center which houses classrooms for the arts, a new state-of-the-art theater, library, offices, snack bar, and exhibition space. The beautiful campus sprawls over 30 acres, a rare luxury in a country like Switzerland, and what is especially noteworthy is that every year, the entire school packs up and moves to Gstaad for the winter. There, skiing is an important part of the daily routine and they make up for shorter school days by attending classes on Saturdays. It, too, is a family run school and the new director will be Christophe Gudin de la Sablonnière who has learned the “family business” from the time he was an infant and grew up on campus. We were there on the day of the all-school annual photo, and it was lovely to see all the students dressed in their finest uniforms to pose for the group shot. Happily for them, they had a picture-perfect day for it, too!
We ended our day in Lausanne, an elegant city along the shores of Lake Geneva. In the hour of free time we had, I took a quick power walk along the shores of the lake. Or at least I tried to power walk when I wasn’t stopping to take photos of the Alps flanking the lake, the spring flowers, or the imposing architecture of the early 20th century buildings along the shoreline. It was a perfect spring day and like me, the locals were out to enjoy it.
Read Part 2 for more information on Swiss Boarding Schools.