Getting to Gems World Academy from Geneva by train is not very easy, there are no direct trains to Etoy, so you need to change either at Allaman or Morges. However, once you get to Etoy it is only a 5 minute walk from the station.
Unlike the majority of schools I visited, there is a security guard at the entrance to the school grounds, who checks visitors’ ID prior to allowing them to the school’s territory. The school is located in a large brand new building, opened only 3 years ago and built in accordance with all the environmental standards.
There is a big reception area, which would have looked very corporate if not for the photographs of current students, events posters and displays of children’s art works.
The canteen at the Gems World Academy is also very big and airy and there is a big window from the reception into the pristinely clean and well equipped kitchen, so that the children could see the cooks at work.
A bit further down from the entrance, part of the hall is set aside for the gallery of children’s artwork, from simple drawings to beautiful paintings and even a model of the community complete with shops, circus and a pharmacy. One of the mothers who volunteered to participate in the open day and talk to prospective parents about her and her children’s experiences at the school explained that this was a project to explore the local community. The children even wrote the labels at the buildings themselves.
After a short informal greeting in the gallery, we were taken upstairs for a presentation by the Head of School Audrey Peverelli. Ms Peverelli spoke briefly about her background – before opening the school 3 years ago, she worked for 11 years in the International School of Paris and she speaks 4 languages. She then moved on to explain the school’s mission statement and core values. Although, the school in Etoy, Switzerland is very new, it is part of a wider Gems family of schools operating from 1959 with a proven track record. Gems students enter into 12 of top 15 best universities in the world.
However, the highlight of that presentation for me was a short video of a speech given by one of the Diploma students about her experience at Gems World Academy. Coming from a different school, she could not believe at first that the learning process could be so captivating, that she would be able to find the love for learning and will be enjoying so much her time at school. Apart from the fact that she was an excellent speaker, she seemed very mature for her age. I was impressed by her touching speech, which perhaps worked better as a reference for me than anything else I saw in the school that day.
We had a chance to meet Director of student wellbeing Daniel Johnston. Although wellbeing is not part of the IB curriculum, the school is really working hard to ensure that children are healthy and happy at school and that they are able to talk freely about issues outside of school curriculum which worry or interest them. He gave an example of drugs and sex discussion he had with 16 year olds the other day.
It was also very interesting to hear the two mothers of current students at Gem. One of them believed in this school, when it was still a project on the paper and she has not been disappointed. Both of them praised school’s excellent facilities, IB programme, which encourages children to learn and figure things out for themselves rather than simply memorising material, and just how happy their children are at the school.
After the presentations we were split into small groups and taken for the tour of the school. We visited a primary arts class, where the kids were crafting clay plates for charity. The maths class had an excellent poster on the door: “If you are not getting stuck, the problem is not hard enough”.
The science lab was empty and clean when we visited, but the full time science lab technician was preparing materials and instruments for the next class in the adjacent laboratory.
The design studio had a 3D printer and a laser cutter among other equipment. The projects include building a computer in grade 8, animal shelters and moving toys. We were told it is a favourite place for all the students to hang out! Children make their own trophies on the 3D printer.
Finally, we were shown a recording studio complete with the modern equipment. We were told that children often prepare broadcasts for the local radio station.
The tour of the school was led by Corine van den Wildenberg – a Vice Principal at Gems World Academy. She knew not only most of the children by their names, but also the parents and where they came from. I was impressed by her dedication to school and by how much she clearly enjoyed working with children.
She explained why she believed so much in the IB system. In the modern world we have such a quick access to information, that knowledge on its own is no longer a commodity. To succeed in the modern world children need to learn to use this knowledge effectively – to be able to solve problems and to work in a team with others. Unlike traditional education, which usually just feeds children the information and facts they need to know, IB encourages them to find it out for themselves. Instead of just telling the facts children, they embark on the hands on project carefully guided by teachers, which allows them to learn and remember (without any memorizing) the material.
I should say I was truly impressed by this school: by the enthusiasm and professionalism of the teachers, by the equipment and facilities, by the spacious and modern building. If there is one thing I would improve is probably the location. The school is situated between the busy motorway and the parking lot, so there is little space for the outside play which is so important for the younger children. That said, the school has large sports grounds with the running track, but I would love to see some greenery around the building.