The smell of newly sharpened pencils and fresh photocopies was wafting through the air in the village of Saint-Légier this August, anxious for students to return. The iconic Haut-Lac International Bilingual School, which overlooks the French Alps and Lake Geneva, was about to begin its 21st school year.
Opened in 1993, the school consists of two campuses (infant and primary together, and secondary) and is bustling with over 650 students aged 3-18, from 45 countries. However, the opening of this school year was even more exciting than years past. The 842-m2 primary school, located on the new Praz-Dagoud Campus, has a state-of-the-art four story, environmentally friendly building and was eager to have students walking the new hallways. Along with this innovative teaching space, a first-class all-school sports facility has been opened.
The beautiful new building is complete with 35 classrooms and a spacious cafeteria, which can double as a theatre or conference venue for up to 300 people. Along with the traditional classrooms, a large gym with climbing wall and bleachers can be divided into three separate teaching spaces, and is ideal for basketball, volleyball or training. The design of the building is more than just educational in orientation, it is 21st century sustainable construct. “The education of children is considered to be one of the most significant contributing factors influencing future responsible management of critical environmental issues for the continued welfare of society in general,” said a member of Haut-Lac’s administration. “A substantial part of education is conveyed through ‘leading by example’, and it is this consideration that led us to ensure that their school would become a role model in the field.” Proper educational tools and sustainability practices line up with the values of Haut-Lac.
The school whole-heartedly promotes sustainable living, notably through its mobility plan. Haut-Lac encourages walking and car sharing, and offers five buses and two shuttles to help students get to school easily. The new primary building is a short two and a half kilometres from the Vevey Motorway exit and provides families with 38 safe stop-and-drop spaces for extremely accessible transport. The infant school, located on the ground floor of the new building, has a separate, underground drop-off/pick-up area to streamline the transportation process. The transportation plan was established in collaboration between the school and the commune of Saint-Légier. The school will be meeting with local officials on a monthly basis to ensure mobility is safe and satisfactory for everyone involved.
Once students arrive at school, the new building sets an efficient backdrop for teachers to inspire student learning and encourage higher-level thinking. All classrooms are equipped with Smartboards. Nine teachers are currently enrolled in a two-year training program to prepare the school for full iPad integration. Students have access to two art rooms, two computer labs, a music room, a beautiful science laboratory, and a technology room equipped with a laser cutter and a 3-D printer. Bilingual French/English teachers are flawlessly incorporating cross-curricular technology lessons into their academic lesson plans. The interdisciplinary nature of the Haut-Lac curriculum incorporates an abundance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through hands-on minds-on learning, such as robotics, gardening, technology and physical science. “Schools worldwide are now emphasizing STEM learning,” says Professor Mary Leou, Director of the Wallerstein Collaborative for Urban Environmental Education and of the Environmental Conservation Education Graduate Program in the Department of Teaching and Learning at New York University. “STEM ties in with sustainability because all future science, technology, engineering and math will focus on solving the global issues, most of which are environmental, from climate change to biodiversity to land use, clean air and water. This is a golden opportunity for STEM and sustainability education at all levels.”
However, learning also occurs outside the confines of the classroom. Haut-Lac is transparent about environmental sustainability and ethical issues, and is dedicated to providing a well-rounded environmental experience to its students through ethical and sustainable practices with its partners, suppliers, and staff. The Board of Directors’ Sustainability Monitoring Committee has been put into place to ensure that the staff, students and partners of the school adhere to the school’s mission to promote social and environmental welfare adapted to the 21st century.
The design concept of the new primary school building was twofold: to serve as a state-of-the-art learning facility and to encourage understanding of sustainability through learning. This new building meets the standards set by MINERGIE®, which recycles the building’s air every twenty minutes in order to reduce energy consumption. One of the building’s most exceptional eco-friendly features is its flat solar panelled roof. The solar energy captured by the school is fed into the power grid, thus making Haut-Lac simultaneously provider and consumer. The output of the solar panels is tracked on a screen in the entrance of the building, along with an interpretation of the yield and the ecological savings achieved (e.g. carbon dioxide emissions). Students will be able to study this in conjunction with physical science and the development of renewable energy. Every classroom has an abundance of natural light, and skylights throughout the hallways mean less electricity consumption. Motion sensors, to ensure energy is not being wasted in empty rooms, activate all lights in the building.
As schools around the world set the stage for a sustainable and environmentally literate student, the implementation of these ideas often fails. According to the Federal Office for the Environment, the Swiss government promotes the integration of environmental issues into all areas of education. Haut-Lac is a leader and model of where schools should be heading. The new campus boasts an abundance of green, open space to be used as a learning tool. A Discovery Garden of fruits and vegetables, which has been donated by the Haut-Lac Parent Teacher Association, is being constructed and developed for students to study in science class and to promote a healthy lifestyle. A Biotope is being established to aid in the conservation of aquatic species, and it will be topped up with collected rainwater. The Secondary Student Council has appointed an environmental committee, which will be responsible for the Biotope. All of the sustainable features of the campus give “science teachers an opportunity to illustrate topics taught in a concrete manner—e.g. plant diversity, balanced ecosystems, sustainable development, renewable energy, self-sufficiency.”
Technology is the future, but the road leading there needs to be environmentally sustainable. Haut-Lac’s mission is to graduate students with the understanding that sustainability and responsibility are not a choice, but a lifestyle. The Haut-Lac International Bilingual School’s new primary school campus is just the place for students to blend both technology and the environment into one extraordinary learning atmosphere.
Article by Courtney Morfing