Geneva English School is located on the beautiful grounds overlooking lake Leman in Genthod, 10 minutes by train from Geneva. The school’s main building, a 19th century villa, is complemented by a separate sports hall and a modern building housing a canteen, a dance studio and the classrooms.
Although the school’s grounds are easily accessible from the main road, there is a manned reception at the entrance to the main building, while the second school building is protected by a code lock.
I was greeted at the reception by Stephanie MacDonald, who is a registrar at the school. She asked me to sign in and gave me a visitor’s badge to wear during the visit. We started our tour at the library on the first floor of the main building. It is a beautiful airy room, with lots of natural light and magnificent views on the school’s grounds and the lake.
There is a separate section for younger children where they can easily browse books on the low shelves.
The French class next to a library is also located in a lovely large room with big windows, parquet floors and original period wall decorations.
I loved the nursery section of the building located on the ground floor. A large, but cosy room with plenty of natural light can accommodate up to 30 children from the age of 3. However, children attend different days a week, so it is almost never that everyone gathers at the same time in one room. The nursery teacher is helped by 3 assistants, so children do get individual attention if necessary. Children are split into smaller groups for different activities. When we entered the room, the teacher was doing a numeracy session with a small group of children on the carpet, while others were playing or drawing. They were so engaged by their activities that they hardly noticed our presence.
Next to the main nursery room is a small so called “messy” room, with separate tables for sand and water play. With 5 large windows, it was quite fresh inside.
Outside of the messy room is a secluded area where nursery children can play safely separated from older children.
I was a little less impressed by the second building of the Geneva English School. Although the classrooms were all beautifully decorated with learning materials and children’s art work, there was a strange smell in the corridors and they looked somehow untidy.
At the entrance to the second building, Nicky Fortune, the Deputy Head of the Geneva English School took over the tour. In the reception class the children were equally busy and paid us little attention. Miss Fortune explained that on Friday afternoons children, if they were good and behaved all week, they get 45 minutes of the “golden time”, when they can choose the activities they want to do. If children misbehaved during the week or were mean to their classmates, the teacher can deduct a few minutes from their golden time.
To teach reading the Geneva English School uses a method called Jolly Phonics. It must be working well, because a 4 year old girl was able to demonstrate us her skills by reading several sentences from a book randomly chosen from their reading materials.
Unlike the busy reception, children at year one were sitting quietly at their desks, drawing or reading – they have not earned their golden time this week. I was explained that this is probably for the first 10 minutes only and they will be allowed to play shortly. Nevertheless, most children did not seem unhappy and enjoyed their quiet activities.
In the basement I was shown a dance studio and a large canteen, which can also be used for other activities. Miss Fortune explained that the children have an option of either having a hot lunch from the canteen or bringing their own lunch from home.
After the tour I still had a lot of questions to Miss Fortune, so she invited me to continue discussion in her office in the main building.
When I asked about the differences in English and Swiss or French education, Miss Fortune explained that, instead of aiming the programme at the middle, English system differentiates the tasks for children of different levels. Working in small groups, teachers are able to challenge each student just at the right level, providing more complicated tasks to children that are more advanced in a particular area.
Although the children have a lesson of coding and programming a week, Geneva English School is not supporting a use of an Ipad or computer at each lesson, especially for younger children. They have shared computers, which are distributed in class and can be used if necessary, but at the end of the session, the computers are taken away.
Rather, the children are encouraged to spend as much time as possible outside. In addition to weekly PE lessons and a playtime at lunch break, the school has an outdoor classroom, where the children either explore the nature around them or do regular class activities.
All in all I really enjoyed the tour. Although Geneva English School perhaps lacks the amazing facilities of the big international schools, children seemed very happy there. I can only imagine what a pleasure it must be playing on the school’s grounds on a sunny day or having a lesson in the shade of the trees in summer.