September has passed, and I hope your years are off to a good start. It has been very sunny here so far. I spent last week up in the Swiss Alps (Villars) visiting Aiglon College for an accreditation visit. The accreditation visit requires some confidentiality, but here are some impressions that I can share.
Aiglon has a very international student body. Their 330 students come from 51 different countries. All of the core classes are taught in English, but only about 40% of the students have English as his or her mother tongue. 6% of the students are in the ESL program, each one for about a year. The teachers (70% British), therefore, are adept at teaching kids who need language translations. Like at Anna’s school, the teachers often turn to other students to cross language bridges. To keep up the mother tongue of its students, Aiglon teaches more than a dozen different languages in its Modern Language Department
The make-up of the classes does make for interesting conversations. I witnessed one history class where students from Russia, Italy and Germany debated the results of the Versailles Treaty—that was fun to watch. In a Religious Studies class, a girl from Saudi Arabia energetically helped the teacher explain the Shia-Sunni split to her classmates from Europe. Then on the playground, I watched a new 11 year old boy from Japan try to negotiate a playground game of Tails with about 10 English words: no, go, mine, stop, out, in, give…!
As I wrote before, Aiglon’s boarding tuition is $82,000CHF or roughly twice as much as Holderness’ boarding tuition. I found that they spent much of that money on people and programs rather than facilities. To a US boarding school teacher, their facilities were not impressive. When I asked about that quality, the answer was that British boarding schools typically have a “make do” approach to their facilities. (The dorms do have very nice living rooms and kitchens.) It did not seem that they had the “facilities arms race” pressure that faces US boarding schools.
In contrast, they had more teachers and staff per pupil than we have, and their pay scale is higher than the pay scales in New England. Our FTE faculty/student ratio is above 7, and I estimate that their ratio close to 4. This difference was seen in how many classes had less than ten students, and how they do not follow the same “three points of contact” model. They have a distinction between the teaching staff, the houseparent staff and the activities staff. The groups have some cross-over of duties, but less than we do.
Aiglon’s most distinctive program is its Expeditions. Being in the Alps, Aiglon’s founder and its current Guiding Principles insist on expeditions in the mountains. Expeditions are weekend outdoor trips or long expeditions that take 3-5 days. Students are required to do at least three expeditions per season and can sign up for more. Most kids do four or five expeditions each season and earn badges for the extra effort.
The Expeditions have a progression over six years as well. I saw a group of first form students learning how to set up tents and build fires on their second expedition at the school. On the same weekend, a senior expedition was scaling a 12,000’ peak across the valley. Top students become certified as “group leaders” and can lead three-day student-only trips in the Alps. In the winter, every student learns to ski or snowboard, and they have to go mountaineering on backcountry ski equipment in the Alps.
The Aiglon staff includes four internationally certified alpine mountain guides. At least two of their staff have written books on mountaineering and have guided trips in the Alps, the Himalayas, South America, etc. It’s a very impressive program. The Expeditions are where the school works on team-building and goal-setting and on integrating the kids from so many different cultures. If felt like Expeditions have the qualities of a six-year progression of Outback and go beyond what we do on Outback.
Aiglon also has cultural long expeditions where they travel around the globe on cultural or service trips. That’s a topic for another time. Those are some of my main impressions. I would love to hear what you think. You can email or go to jorymacomber.wordpress.com to comment on this post.
PS. Is anyone handing out umbrellas as “personal sprinkler protection devices”?