Newly accredited and set to introduce boarding next fall, Verbier’s only international school, LVIS, has much to offer the community
As Thibaut Descoeudres comes to the telephone, children thunder past him, talking excitedly. For the headmaster of the Lemania-Verbier International School in the Swiss ski resort of Verbier, it’s not easy to find time for a quiet interview.
LVIS, founded in 2010, has been a member of the Lemania Swiss School Group since 2014. With accreditation from the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme received in December 2014 and the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (a British certificate) received in February 2015, the school is now prepared to offer a first-rate education to children ages three through 18.
Obtaining accreditation “is a huge thing,” says Descoeudres. “For a little school like ours, it helps us to develop and grow.” But it’s also a major step for the community. Previously, to obtain a Swiss diploma, students in Verbier had to travel 55 km to Sion. “Now we can have a baccalaureate in Verbier, and it’s completely new. I can call that a revolution,” says Descoeudres.
LVIS, with a maximum class size of 10, follows a British curriculum. Other than the French teacher, the 10 staff members —some of whom work part-time— are all British. But LVIS is an international school, and offers a bilingual education in English and French.
The LVIS mission statement asserts that ‘Learning at our school is inspired by critical thinking, creativity and open mindedness to the cultures and beliefs of others. With a strong emphasis on sports and the arts, we believe in developing the personality of each student and helping them becoming principled global citizens as well as life long learners.’
There is a core of British students, but also children who are originally from France, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, The Netherlands, Canada, the United States, and Switzerland.
The new boarding option
Currently, a large percentage of the 58 students are day students. Their families live at least part-time in the community and stay “two, three, four, five years,” says Descoeudres.
In addition, several students currently live with host families. And beginning in September 2015, Lemania-Verbier will expand to include a boarding programme for children 12 and older.
Two teachers and two staff members will take care of the children, who will live in a five-bedroom, two-story chalet in the heart of Verbier, a 10-minute walk from the school.
“We believe it’s important to have unity between the school and the boarding in terms of homework or activities or behaviour,” says the headmaster. “It’s not, the school is one thing and boarding is another.”
Close ties to the community
There are many reasons that international families choose to live in Verbier. It’s home to one of the largest ski resorts in Europe. It offers a wealth of activities, from concerts and art exhibits to sporting events. And the town is safe, says Descoeudres, especially “if you compare it to London or Paris or New York”. It is a mountain village filled with chalets, restaurants and shops, and has a well-established international community. The school has a close link to Verbier, says Descoeudres. “It would be completely different if it were somewhere else.”
An international school has been a priority for the community for the past 20 years, explains the headmaster. And after Swiss citizens voted in 2012 to limit the number of second homes allowed in a community to 20-percent, “filling the empty beds” became even more important for the village.
“Verbier is empty between seasons, so the new school is helping the community,” says Descoeudres. Grandparents come to visit the school’s students and rent hotels or apartments. “There are many, many positive side effects of private schools in such a place,” he says.
As good as home
Communicating the positive aspects of the Lemania-Verbier school is one of Descoeudres’ tasks as headmaster.
“It’s very interesting because I have to think about developing the school, so I have to be in contact with the community, with the politicians. I have very close contact with the parents —I see them every day. We speak very often.” Luckily, the school has very good community support.
Descoeudres says the best thing about his job is “the contact with the people. The students, teachers and parents. That’s what I like the most.”
In fact, he relates, one of the fathers told him just the other day that “the only problem with your school is that it’s very difficult to go back home, because the children are so happy here.” “And that,” says Descoeudres, “is something I’m very proud of —the fact that the children, but also the teachers and parents, feel like they’re at home in our school.”
Article by Jeannie Wurz