LAS challenges students and it is meant to do so. Each year, hundreds of students from around the world take residence on one of the most beautiful places on this planet. The LAS Alpine Institute inspires students to break free from preconceptions and love and learn from Leysin’s landscape, undergoing personal growth in the process. The LAS Alpine Institute builds a connection to one’s local environment while developing the physical and teamwork skills vital for developing children into healthy adults.
What is the LAS Alpine Institute?
The Institute is mostly a spirit of inspiration. Teachers open their classroom doors and their after-school activities to the changing forests, the crevassed glaciers, the unique history of our home, the place where for a few precious years our students learn to think for themselves. This model of education encourages students to see themselves as connected to the natural world and enables LAS students to become instruments of change. It is left unscripted so that each teacher can foster these connections and sympathies with the tools best suited for their subject and students.
Where Do We Draw Inspiration From for the LAS Alpine Institute?
Many of the teachers have been doing similar work to the LAS Alpine Institute long before I arrived last year as the coordinator for the GLOBE science program and the International Award. As you may have read in Panorama 2015, GLOBE is NASA’s 20-year-old program, “Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment,” where students follow certain protocols that turn them into citizen scientists. They learn science while gathering data useful to practicing scientists. The International Award springs from the U.K.’s 60-year-old Duke of Edinburgh Award, which challenges young people to pursue diverse long-term objectives that are physical, mental, and partly outdoors. These programs are consolidated into the “Alpine Institute” with additional layers, all of them focused on developing in our students a deep understanding and passion for the mountain landscape and culture of our Swiss home. In this process, we’re helping uprooted children grow into grounded adults.
Educationally, we are inspired by Kurt Hahn, the German founder of Outward Bound and the International Award, who said, “It is the foremost task of education to insure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible denial, and above all, compassion.” It’s hard not to see the link here to LAS’s mission of “developing innovative, compassionate, and responsible citizens of the world.”
How are Connections Being Formed?
Several teachers demonstrate how they are embracing principles that are in continual development, under the Alpine Institute’s banner. The connections may feel loose but strong currents of common themes surface time and time again, such as in citizen science within the educational process and curriculum, and having teachers and students turn to using the Leysin outdoors to create tangible examples for experiential learning. A few of the Alpine Institute accomplishments from last year and future plans include:
- LETS Study Leysin:We’ve had two school-wide field days in our Local Environmental Transect Survey, or LETS Study Leysin. This is our flagship citizen science program researching changes over time at many different altitudes from the Rhône Valley (500m) to the Tour d’Ai (2,331m). Students lay out 30m x 30m plots at over a dozen locations and map every tree inside them. These giant field days were led by Science Department Head Chris Leonhard and Dan Patton, respectively. We intend for this study to extend over the upcoming decades at the stable institution of LAS and inspire other institutions to follow suit. Embedding such research into schools provides valuable long-range ecological and climate data while simultaneously educating students.
- Visiting Scholars:Generous intellectual support has been received from prominent scientists, including several LASER visiting scholars. They include:
- Chris Randinfrom the University of Lausanne and the Lausanne Botanical Garden. Dr. Randin is one of the leading experts in the botany of the pre-Alps of the Leysin region and has been instrumental in our LETS research endeavors, giving lectures on the significance of mountains, extending an invitation to a special congress of Alpine Botanical Gardens, advising on the creation of a LAS botanical garden of native species, and consulting on establishing “vertical ecology”, combining adventure and science, within our beloved Leysin territory.
- Anne Delestradeand Irene Alvarez from CREA, the Center for Alpine Ecosystem Research in nearby Chamonix, helped us generate ideas for student-citizen science programs and with following the protocols of Phenoclim, CREA’s phenology program. Lectures were given on mountain science and what makes a scientist.
- Martin Brocklehurst, co-founder of the European Citizen Science Association, assists in our integration into Europe’s exploding citizen science scene in exciting ways and stories will unfold in coming editions of Panorama. He has given two popular Library Lectures at LAS.
- Mauro Fischer, a Ph.D. candidate in glaciology who works on the glaciers of our nearby Les Diablerets peak, is helping us devise a glacier research program that will involve all of LAS, including Summer In Switzerland.
- GLOBE Day:On 16 March 2015, LAS launched the first annual GLOBE Science Day involving grades 8 through 11. Inspired by NASA’s GLOBE Program, students presented science “posters” following Dr. Randin’s keynote speech. On 12 March, the second GLOBE Science Day will be held with an invitation to several regional international schools to participate. We envision hosting schools from across Switzerland in 2017 for a prestigious annual science fair for students.
Additional highlights, such as the International Award, and the contributions from the Arts can be read about in more detail here in the full addition of the 2016 Panorama Magazine. The LAS Alpine Institute encourages faculty and students to forge new relationships and projects with thought leaders and scientists to enrich the educational experience unique to LAS and Leysin.