A Family Enterprise
Haut-Lac International Bilingual School has been a quality educational establishment and family enterprise since 1993. The founders, Anne-Marie and Neil Harwood, and Grainne and Jean-Louis Dubler, still hold the reins, ensuring stability and tradition. Swiss Style recently spoke with the Harwoods.
Anne-Marie, originally from Northern Ireland, and Neil, hailing from England, met over 30 years ago in Switzerland as young teachers. After several years of working in international schools in Vaud, they founded a language and activities centre in 1987, and were soon joined by the Dublers.
When their children reached school age they reflected on alternatives to the Swiss public school system, with its tradition of sending students home at lunchtime and problematic integration of non-French-speaking children. Their aim: providing a solution for working parents, and easing English-speaking children into a French language environment. Armed with their wide-ranging experience, and recognising a growing need, they decided to create Haut-Lac, an international bilingual primary school, in Vevey.
The secondary school in St-Légier has developed since and the student body has grown to over 600. This autumn another campus will be inaugurated nearby. “We decided to construct a purpose-built campus which will allow us to respond to demand, ” explains Mr Harwood. The new premises, which can accommodate another 150 students, boast spacious infant and primary classrooms, a library, a technology room and a dining room with stage. The whole-school sports facilities, incorporating a triple gym, will help Haut-Lac to develop a programme for young sporting talents, combining excellence in both sports and academics within a balanced and flexible timetable.
The added space will allow Haut-Lac to propose the hosting of conferences for bodies such as the International Baccalaureate organisation or the Swiss Group of International Schools of which it is a member. There are also plans for synergies with the surrounding communes in the use of the sports facilities.
Haut-Lac encountered various challenges in its early days. Local students, key to creating a genuine bilingual environment, were not easy to attract because international schools and their benefits were less known then than they are today. With only small numbers of students, the Directors took on many different roles initially. “We had to be teachers, lunch ladies, and bus drivers,” recalls Mrs Harwood.
A Rich, Multi-Faceted Bilingual Education
Haut-Lac runs its own unique bilingual primary curriculum, as well as the International Baccalaureate Middle Years and Diploma Programmes. Mr Harwood emphasizes that, “beyond academics,the school strives to offer a holistic education that helps children grow as unique and talented individuals. Pupils are encouraged to take on sports and other recreational activities.” Mrs Harwood further comments that, in addition to forming well-rounded individuals, extra-curricular activities can also improve young people’s confidence and help them to perform better overall.
The family atmosphere is an important aspect of Haut-Lac, where everyone, pupils and teachers alike, is on first-name terms. With over 40 nationalities, more than 20 mother-tongues and a curriculum that is not affiliated to any one particular country, a strong multicultural and international feeling is maintained. Haut-Lac prides itself in practicing total bilingualism. The majority of teachers are fluent in the two languages of instruction, subjects are taught in both English and French, and communication is bilingual. Children are motivated to work and express themselves in either language, receiving support where necessary. One of the great advantages of this bilingualism is that it allows young expats to integrate more easily into the local community and local students to avail themselves of a richer educational experience. The IB Diploma stands them in good stead as they enter universities and colleges in Switzerland, the UK and elsewhere in the world.
- Haut-Lac opened in 1993 with 13 students and now has over 600.
- 21 percent of families resident in Blonay/St-Légier send their children to private schools, including Haut-Lac.
- With its 100 teachers and 50 staff, the school is one of the biggest employers in St-Légier.
- Students are aged between three and 18 and represent more than 40 nationalities.
- In 2002, Haut-Lac became authorised to offer the IB Middle Years Programme (ages 11 to 16).
- In 2004, it began the IB Diploma Programme (ages 16 to 18).
- Haut-Lac is fully accredited by the Council of International Schools.
- The main building of the secondary campus includes science labs, a music and gymnastics room, polyvalent classrooms and outdoor sports facilities. Two smaller buildings house an individual needs area, a technology lab, a library, and a study room for the DP students.
- A second campus, opening for the 2014-2015 academic year, will be home to infant and primary classes (moving up from Vevey) and includes a triple gym.
- The Harwoods and Dublers are ‘family’ (Grainne is Anne-Marie’s sister), and both couples are proud parents to three daughters, all of them educated at Haut-Lac.
Article by Bronwen Gerber