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Old 16.04.2019, 23:20
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Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

Hi all,

I have lurked on this forum for a long time and benefited very much from reading it, but this is my first post.

We are a family of three, soon to be four, considering a move from the US to Lausanne. Our plan at this time to stay in Switzerland for 7-8 years and then to move back to the US, although my job is such that we can stay longer if we like.

The question we are thinking hardest about is schools for children. Our older kid would be four and a half years old when we move; our younger kid would be 6 months old. We have been advised to put our children in public school, but we worry that this would make it hard for them to adjust to schools in the US when we return, and also that it would also be hard for us to help them with schoolwork (I don't speak any French at this point). On the other hand, it seems that the International school mainly caters to expats who are in Switzerland for a shorter duration than us. As a result we were looking at bilingual schools, in particular Champittet. But I'm curious to know what y'all think.
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Old 17.04.2019, 07:45
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

Welcome to the forum.

Honestly, go with the public schools. For one thing internationals are very expensive. Here's just one example:

https://www.isl.ch/page.cfm?p=4635

If you can afford those fees for 4 kids then you must be a millionaire.

The kids will pick up French very quickly, though you probably need to help them keep up with English since that wouldn't be taught until they're a bit older.

Since this move is still under consideration also note that as US citizens you're required under US law to continue filing US tax returns and could owe the US tax on top of your Swiss ones, though there are taxation treaties which mitigate this. Start your research on that here:

https://www.irs.gov/individuals/inte...-living-abroad

Also to be able to open a bank account here you would need to sign a W-9 form to allow the bank to send the account details to the IRS.
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Old 17.04.2019, 12:08
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

I'd also go with public schools.
If you do go back to the US, yes, there will be a bit of an adjustment, but since the kids' mother tongue will be English the move back really should not be that difficult.
We moved from Canada, when our kids were 10 & 12 years old, and put them in public schools here. So kind of the opposite of what you might do, except that our kids did not even know the language. It worked out fine.
By putting them in local school, you will give them the opportunity to not just speak but become bilingual in French, make local friends, and immerse yourself and them in the culture.
The only reason I would hold back on local school is if your older child has a speech delay in your own language. Then I would worry that that would make it difficult for him/her to learn French.
School starts slow here with an emphasis on play and social skills, but after age 8,9 academic demands increase. So you may find that kids seem "behind" their peers in the States at the beginning, but this evens out around age 10 or so, so if you move back at that time or after, you will find that the kids are the same or even ahead of their American peers.
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Old 17.04.2019, 18:37
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

Thank you for these very helpful responses!
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Old 18.04.2019, 14:39
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

I would start with the public local school route and supplement it with weekly English literacy lessons with either a qualified teacher (e.g. primary school teacher and not English teacher) who offers individual or small group lessons.

In this way, you leave all options open moving forward, the children learn French and integrate and you don't spend a huge fortune on International School when it's not really required. Then you can assess along the coming years how it's working out for you.
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Old 18.04.2019, 14:58
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

I second the need for supplemental English lessons, should you opt for local school, since you foresee reintegrating your children into US schools in the future.

My personal experience: My 8-year-old spent two years in a Swiss international school, where he was in a class of mostly native English speakers and a handful of students of other mother tongues (who had very little grasp of English). He also had not studied French before our arrival in Switzerland and at times received intensive "pull-out" French instruction in lieu of being present in the regular classroom. As a result, (and admittedly this is seeing it in hindsight) the English instruction he received (I believe) was somewhat watered down.

When my family returned to the US, he was 10. He tested for admission at a private school, which provided us immediate insight into the gaps in his reading comprehension and his writing ability, as well as gaps in his knowledge of spelling/vocabulary/grammar/punctuation. It was quite clear that he was behind his US peers.

Reading, watching television, and speaking English at home will keep your kids' grasp of spoken English in place, but unless that is supplemented with the teaching of some sort of formal English curriculum, your children (particularly your older child) may be at-risk of being behind when your family returns in 7-8 years.
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Old 18.04.2019, 17:47
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

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When my family returned to the US, he was 10. He tested for admission at a private school, which provided us immediate insight into the gaps in his reading comprehension and his writing ability, as well as gaps in his knowledge of spelling/vocabulary/grammar/punctuation. It was quite clear that he was behind his US peers.

Reading, watching television, and speaking English at home will keep your kids' grasp of spoken English in place, but unless that is supplemented with the teaching of some sort of formal English curriculum, your children (particularly your older child) may be at-risk of being behind when your family returns in 7-8 years.
Would it perhaps help if the kids were moved to an international school a year or two before the move back?
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Old 18.04.2019, 17:58
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

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Would it perhaps help if the kids were moved to an international school a year or two before the move back?
I would think that would be a good option in OP's case, particularly for the older child as based upon the time period that OP expects to be in CH, that child would enter middle school upon the family's return to the US.

IMO, the younger child would be fine staying in local school during the entirety of OP's stay in CH, with some supplemental English lessons.

As swisscanmom indicated, though, any potential special needs of the individual children would need to be carefully evaluated.
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Old 20.04.2019, 13:00
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Re: Public schools vs. international schools vs. bilingual schools

I had two kids who were in the Swiss system and are now in the international school system. There are positives and negatives to both and it is not so straightforward as to which is the correct path to take.

Local system

Your children go to a school near you, have friends from the local area and they learn the local language with an emphasis on grammar (and moving onto other languages in due course). The academic level is good but very much a "one size fits all" in terms of methodology. There are lots of activities that take place and the school system has a planned series of excursions which allow your children to become increasingly independent and able to live away from home. Language support is through pull out classes, which may go to push-in but not often, in my experience.

The possible negatives are there, though, and they are academic. At the age of 12 or 13, all students in the local system sit the ECRs. These decide the direction your child's learning will take in the next 4 or 5 years or so. While not set in stone, it is not so straightforward to change direction. The Swiss system is geared towards the gymnasiums (essentially academic schools) and the non-gymnasium schools. One will lead to university immediately, and the other can lead to university eventually, should they decide to go down that route. It is a little more complicated than this, but there are plenty of posts describing the process, which explain it much better than I can.

As has been mentioned, while your children will have good spoken English, they will lack the grammatical structure that underpins mastery, so this will need to be catered for, should they wish to return to the US. Also remember that the US academic system is predicated on the Common Core and NGSS, which builds knowledge through set classes (Algebra 1, pre-calculus, etc. etc.) whereas most non-US schools follow the "onion" method with a broad curriculum which is revisited in greater depth as the years progress. This will have an effect on the return of any child to the US system in the same way that any US schooled child coming to Europe has initial difficulties adjusting. It is normal and provisions usually have to be made for it. There are gymnasiums that do the IB but I don't know of any in Vaud. Here it is the Swiss Maturite and, like many examination systems, it is not for everybody. Then again, neither is the IB.

There is also the financial side of things. Can get somewhat difficult.

International School

Usually - but not always - have a diverse student body. Some of it is transient (2-3 years) but by no means all. The academic level can be high, but not necessarily so. The teachers will generally be qualified but some may not be highly experienced, and can themselves be transient. Most tend to follow the IB, FB or US/UK qualifications but there are variants.

Facilities will be great in the top schools but not so great in the cheaper ones. The local schools tend to have a lot more than most imagine and can offer support that will not happen in the international sector (without a hefty bill).

ISL has an excellent reputation and I have heard good things about Champittet also. In Lausanne you also have Brilliantmont and, outside of there, there is La Cote and GEMS Etoy. If you are willing to go further afield, there are schools but I suppose it is nice to see ones children now and again.
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