For those of you who can read this post, I hope Special Programs has started off well. From Philadelphia, to the forge, to the Pemi Wilderness to all the places that the Seniors are headed, Special Programs creates new locations for everybody at the school. I bring that up because my visit to the Leysin American School (LAS) in Switzerland last week, as well as my visit to the UWC-Maastricht this week brought up issues around location. This blog travels from mountain classrooms to the educations of John McCain and Barak Obama.
LAS is a boarding school of about 300 kids set up in the Swiss Alps, about a 90 minute drive from Geneva. When I asked both adults and students, “why did you decide to come to LAS?”, many pointed to the window and said “just look outside.” The scenery and mountain opportunities are stunning. A picture of the view from a class in the library is below.
These comments reminded me that for boarding schools, just like colleges, location is a big factor in who decides to attend that school. A school can’t change its location but it can use it. Just as Holderness has many programs connected to the New Hampshire mountains and forests, LAS has a “mountain challenge” in its orientation, an afternoon ski program in the winter, and longer expeditions into the Alps. Being on a train line and in Switzerland, LAS also takes advantage of its location in the center of Europe. As part of their international curriculum, students and faculty take travel weekends and cultural trips every term to many parts of Europe. Below is a fuzzy picture of where kids were headed for their next cultural trips. The destinations included Florence, Amsterdam, Lisbon, Sorrento, Berlin, Munich, Barcelona, Venice, Georgia, Prague and Croatia.
Location is a factor on the LAS campus as well. The school has recently purchased and renovated a beautiful 19th century hotel and turned it into their center for the IB Diploma program. The Head talked to me about how the IB program and a beautiful facility were academic distinguishers for ASL. The US diploma students work out of another building, Savoy, and so the new IB location creates some challenges too as housing the two different diploma programs in two different buildings can create a sense of two separate campuses. Here are the school photos of the buildings:
LAS has students from over 50 nations and does not have one group larger than about 20% of the school. Below is a picture of the names and nationalities of last year’s graduating class.
Like many international schools, the Head talked about how having such a spread of students eliminates the insider/outsider dynamic at the School. Everyone arrives as an outsider and works to create a new community. I watched the Student Council work on organizing the school’s international fair: a group of students from all over the world had divided up tasks from activities, to scheduling, to promotion, to finances; and they were visibly excited about the event that would share all of their cultures. Below is a picture of the Student Council. The kids with their hands raised are the executive committee.
As with the trips and the fair, much of their global education occurs outside the classroom. Correspondingly, the residential dean makes sure that all students room with a person with a different mother tongue. LAS also has a week-long orientation program that includes the parents. Like Brillantmont, LAS uses a digital tool called PowerSchool that puts up daily assignments and grades for all students, teachers and parents to access in real time. Connecting to the parents is an on-going process.
On the IT front, the students and faculty all use MacBooks and Google Docs, so the many digital assignments and projects can easily talk to each other. With these new tools, the Dean of Faculty talked about the concept of global citizenship as another strand of international education. Using digital tools can create international citizens. For instance, many of the Arab Spring protests were powered by global digital citizens. In contrast, one of the weaknesses of the Occupy Wall Street movement was its inability to leverage digital citizens. The school hopes to educate kids in that type of citizenship.
As part of faculty training, all the adults had read Third Culture Kids by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken. Third Culture kids are students that have a passport from one country but live in another country. For example, Anna Mac is a third culture kid this year. The book discusses the issues and strengths of such students and helps teachers better work with them. An interesting example of the global skills of third culture kids came out in the book’s introduction: both John McCain and Barak Obama are third culture kids. McCain was born in Panama and lived overseas until he turned 15 years old. Obama was born in the USA but spent a considerable part of his childhood in Indonesia. Those experiences probably helped them rise to the top of the US presidential ladder where international (and digital) skills are especially important.
Enjoy your new locations during Special Programs. A new spot creates unease, but in the long run creates important new perspectives and skills.