Haut-Lac was born out of an idea and a vision shared by two families. The founders, Anne-Marie and Neil Harwood, opened a bilingual children’s activity centre after several years of working in Swiss international schools. They were soon joined by Anne-Marie’s sister Grainne, and her husband, Jean-Louis Dubler.
When their daughters reached school age, the families 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. They set themselves a new goal: to provide a solution for working parents, and to ease English-speaking children into a French language environment.
When friends dream together, things happen. The Haut-Lac International Bilingual Primary School opened its doors in the hills above Vevey in 1993 with 13 students.
Haut-Lac encountered various challenges in its early days. Local students, key to creating a genuine bilingual environment, were not easy to attract because the benefits of international schools were less known back then than they are today. In fact, private schools in general had the reputation of being elitist, a place for the ultra-wealthy or for children who did not fit into the public system. That was difficult to overcome. With only a small number of students, the founding directors took on many different roles. They had to be teachers, lunch supervisors, and bus drivers – all the while remaining committed to educating the community on the benefits of a bilingual education.
At the outset, Haut-Lac created its own unique bilingual primary curriculum. The goal was to allow students to become fluent in both English and French. To that end, class instruction and daily interactions were conducted in two languages.
Responding to popular demand, an all-English primary programme was later added for students whose families were transferred to Switzerland for a short-term stay. As those expatriate students would soon return to education in their native country, a new curriculum was created that allowed them to pursue their education primarily in English, while still getting some exposure to French.
In the spring of 2002, Haut-Lac received authorisation from the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) to run the IB Middle Years Programme (IBMYP) for 11 to 16 year olds. In May 2004, Haut-Lac received further authorisation to run the IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) for 16 to 18 year olds. The first IB Diploma examinations were held in May 2006.
The Haut-Lac secondary school established itself in Roches Grises in St-Légier in 2004. An additional building was constructed alongside the existing facilities in 2005 with specialist rooms and laboratories for visual and performing arts and science. By 2008, the school had acquired three more properties. The first was renovated to house a technology laboratory, an expanded and improved library, and a study room for older students. The second facility houses a quiet area for language and other individual studies and support lessons. The third building is the new purpose-built home for the Infant/Primary sections in St-Légier, and it is not far from the current Secondary school. It includes a triple gym used by the whole school.
Today, Haut-Lac International Bilingual School welcomes over 650 boys and girls between the ages of 3 and 18, and the crèche Les Marronniers (opened in November 2014 in Vevey) takes care of infants between 18 months and 3 years old. The students come from over 40 countries, and speak a multitude of native languages.
Despite the impressive growth and expansion, we remain at heart and in daily practice, a family school. The family atmosphere is an important aspect of Haut-Lac, where everyone, pupils and teachers alike, is on first-name terms. The four founders are still the school’s managing directors, and actively involved in operations, activities, and planning. Our teachers and staff are deeply committed to the ideas of international education and personal excellence. When your children are on campus, they are our children, too.
Our belief in complete bilingualism as a foundation for 21st century education is still strong. Unlike some other “international” schools that limit their exposure to “food and festivals”, we see our role as active co-creators of a multicultural and international atmosphere on campus and in the classrooms. The majority of our teachers are fluent in the two languages of instruction, and subjects are taught in both English and French. We inspire your children to live, learn, and play in two languages, and to absorb the spirit of respect for different cultures, collaboration, and a positive work ethic. Today more than ever, our guiding principle is “Your children, our expertise, their future.”