It took me two weeks to get an appointment for a visit to Institut Florimont, which could only be scheduled in a two months time, but I should admit it was worth the wait. I was a little annoyed by such a long waiting time and perhaps already biased against the school, but what little that I saw of Institut Florimont reversed any negative bias that I might have had against it.
Institut Florimont is located on a quiet leafy residential street in Petit-Lancy behind the manned security gate. The first building after the gate is Ecole Maternelle, which is housed in a villa connecting to a beautiful purpose-built modern building.
I was met by Véronique Marioni – primary school Assistant Director, who told me about Institut Florimont and showed me the Maternelle – school for children from the age of 3. Primary and secondary schools are located in the separate wings of the main building. In addition there are also two sport complexes, one of which is housing the fencing club – the sport Institut Florimont is famous for.
Institut Florimont is a private school with the mainly French curriculum, which is supplemented by additional classes and subjects. The instruction language is French, but in the secondary school children have an option to switch to a bilingual education and obtain the International Baccalaureate Diploma. To qualify for the entry into an international section students have to be equally fluent in English and French. Mrs Marioni assured me, that children studying English in Florimont are able to achieve the required proficiency to continue their education in the international section. English is taught for 2 hours per week in Maternelle and then for 3 hours starting from the primary school.
Students also start learning German from the age of 7. At secondary school they have an option to drop German and take up Mandarin, Italian or Spanish.
Despite the lack of a bilingual or English classes until the secondary school, Institut Florimont is truly international. Children of 68 different nationalities study in Florimont and the school accepts younger children even with no or very limited French. There are speech therapists and teachers of French as a foreign language to help non-French speakers.
Florimont is a catholic school, although they accept children of all confessions. Religion classes are mandatory for children from catholic families, other children enjoy some free time during those classes. However, introduction to religion and religious values starts already in Maternelle for all children.
The Maternelle building was light and spacious with wide airy corridors decorated with children’s artworks. I was especially impressed by kids’ interpretation of Kandinsky’s concentric circles and similar variations of other modern artists’ work. Mrs Marioni explained that they get introduced to the world of art very early on.
There are maximum of 24 children in each class with one main teacher and three assistants. The classrooms in Maternelle are big with a lot of toys, educational materials and displays of art work. Children learn reading already by the age of 5, which is earlier then in the Swiss system.
Mrs Marioni explained that although the school is quite demanding, it is not competitive. Teachers differentiate between the students and encourage the more able students to move faster by giving them more difficult tasks, while offering additional support to those, who are a little behind the class. Children get about 1 hour of homework a day starting form primary school. This is a lot more than in other schools I visited, where the homework average is about 20 minutes in primary.
In the Maternelle, the three year olds and the four year olds still have the afternoon nap for 1 hour 10 minutes and 40 minutes respectively. I was shown their little bedrooms tastefully decorated with clouds and stars.
Mrs Marioni showed me also the gym and the large canteen located in the old villa part of the Maternelle complex. Children eat a hot lunch freshly prepared each day at the school kitchens and in compliance with the Fourchette Verte label (Green fork).
Children also have around 2 hours a day of free play time outside, always supervised by their teachers and teaching assistants. There is a lovely playground just outside the Maternelle building complete with slides and a train!
Although I did not have a chance to speak with any of the teachers or see primary or secondary school buildings, I really enjoyed my visit to Institut Florimont. The school is demanding, intellectually challenging and perhaps has a completely different approach to the other international schools in Geneva, but it undoubtedly would give an excellent education and instill traditional values in children. If only they had an English or bilingual section from the early age, I would have strongly considered sending my daughter there.