Beginning in the fall of 2018, students in grade six will have the opportunity to be boarding students at TASIS The American School in Switzerland, which previously only permitted students in grades 7–12 (and postgraduates) to reside on campus.
“We have fielded many requests from families about this through the years, and after a careful analysis carried out by our Board of Directors and Administration, we decided it was time to make the change,” said Director of Institutional Advancement Bill Eichner, who served as the School’s Admissions Director from 1997–2017. “With our Middle School encompassing grades 6–8, we feel that it makes sense for our boarding program to include students from all three grades.”
The Middle School Boarding Program at TASIS currently comprises just 16 students (compared to more than 250 students in the High School program), and all the Middle School students live in the same dormitory: Belvedere, an impressive villa on the upper campus that includes student rooms of various sizes, three faculty apartments, two large classrooms, several administrative offices, a large kitchen and dining area, and multiple common spaces. The outdoor grounds include a small soccer pitch, three foosball tables, a covered terrace, and an open courtyard.
The Belvedere soccer pitch (and view from the dormitory)
Middle School Math and History Teacher Patrick Alava serves as the Pastoral Care Coordinator for the program, leading a team composed of seven dorm parents—three full-time Middle School teachers, two full-time Elementary School teachers, and two full-time Middle School interns—and six student proctors, all of whom are TASIS High School students. Three of the dorm parents and three of the student proctors live in Belvedere, and the remaining caretakers live elsewhere on campus or just a short walk away.
Having a very low student-dorm parent ratio is particularly important for Middle School boarding students, who face a unique set of challenges as they strive to excel academically and socially.
“It is paramount that we provide our Middle School boarding students with an exceptional level of care,” said Tom Lill, who as the Director of Residential Life at TASIS oversees both the High School and Middle School Boarding Programs. “Many of them are away from their parents for the first time, and many are also dealing with the difficulties that accompany learning a new language in a new environment.”
“It can be very hard to live away from your home, but when we have any problems the dorm parents always talk with us, hug us, and help us,” said Eleonora Atanasova, an 8th-grade student from Bulgaria who started at TASIS this year.
A girls’ dorm room in Belvedere
TASIS helps Middle School students meet the challenges of living away from home by making sure that an outstanding dorm parenting team is in place, providing an enhanced level of supervision, and constructing a framework that keeps them on track.
“We have an excellent Middle School boarding team that makes sure students receive the level of care they need,” said Mr. Lill, who was named the Director of Residential Life last spring but has worked in the TASIS Boarding Program since 2011, including a five-year stint as the Middle School Pastoral Care Coordinator. “Whereas each High School dorm on campus has one dorm parent on duty, the Middle School dorm always has two on duty from evening check-in at 18:45 until lights out at 22:00. We also have a mandatory breakfast for all Middle School boarding students to ensure that they’re up on time, start their day with a healthy meal, and are prepared for the day’s schedule.”
“It is paramount that we provide our Middle School boarding students with an exceptional level of care.”
|– Tom Lill
Director of Residential Life
On a typical weekday, Middle School boarding students eat breakfast at 7:15, attend classes from 8:00–16:00, participate in after-school activities ranging from competitive sports to a variety of visual and performing arts options from 16:00–17:00, and enjoy dinner and some free time before returning to their rooms for a supervised study hall from 18:45–20:45. They then have time to do additional schoolwork or socialize within the dormitory before going to bed at 22:00.
“It’s not possible for a Middle School boarding student to slip through the cracks,” said Mr. Alava, who has served as a dorm parent in Belvedere since he started at TASIS in 2011 and was appointed Pastoral Care Coordinator at the start of this year. “We hold them accountable for everything, and we’ve found that they adapt to the routine very quickly. It’s true that the rules can be strict and students don’t always like that, but we try to put a structure in place that helps them succeed.”
Weekend activities focus on community-building (bonfires, games, and group cooking sessions), culture (trips to concerts, drama performances, and museums), and athletics (skiing, playing a sport, or watching a local soccer or hockey game). The Belvedere team typically offers three activities each weekend, and students are required to attend at least one. If they are not enjoying a structured activity or an overnight weekend trip, students often spend their Saturdays exploring downtown Lugano with their friends in groups of three or larger.
Middle School boarding students took a weekend trip to Ponte Tibetano and spent the night in a mountain hut.
The consistent structure from day to day and week to week is designed to help the School’s youngest boarding students make the most of the time they spend studying in a new country and ready them for the academic challenges awaiting them at the next level. “Our Middle School boarding students gain intensive exposure to English and are pushed in the classroom, which prepares them well for the rigors of our High School curriculum,” said Mr. Lill.
“We hold them accountable for everything, and we’ve found that they adapt to the routine very quickly.”
|– Patrick Alava
Pastoral Care Coordinator
Students receive a great deal of academic support from the Belvedere team, which consists of teachers with backgrounds in a wide range of academic disciplines. Many boarding students were named to the Dean’s List this fall, and several of the students who are new to TASIS this year have demonstrated steady improvement and have a good shot at being added to the list this spring.
But the dorm parents focus on far more than academics, also emphasizing character development, emotional development, social skills, coping strategies, and wellness. They are supported by School Counselor Pamela Waters and a trio of school nurses, who come to Belvedere to lead workshops about the transition from a home environment to a boarding one, the nuances of interpersonal relationships, the importance of good hygiene, the best strategies for promoting wellness and limiting illness, and other meaningful topics.
Mr. Alava was also quick to point out how valuable it is to have High School proctors on the Belvedere team. “They organize fun activities, offer support during study time, help the dorm feel like more of a home, and provide an ear for the students, who may not always want to take their problem to an adult right away,” he said. “They think of themselves as big brothers and sisters to the Middle School students, and sometimes they can make a connection that we can’t make.”
A boys’ dorm room in Belvedere
Mr. Lill is continually impressed with the progress Middle School boarding students make, particularly over the course of their first year at TASIS. “They learn a great deal about independence, responsibility, and respect for other cultures,” he said. “They grow to see themselves as a big family and are far less judgemental of one another than they may be outside this small community of boarders.”
“Being a Middle School boarding student is challenging but fun,” said Aelita Koçkar, an 8th-grade student from Turkey who came to TASIS this year. “My friendships have a deeper meaning now, I am much more independent, and I manage my time better.”
“I think I have grown to be a lot more independent and a lot more responsible,” remarked Kelvin Tsoi, an 8th-grade student from Hong Kong who is also new to TASIS this year.
“I now know how to be on time, to be organized, to clean my room every day, and to be self-contained,” added Atanasova.
Mr. Alava works with a Middle School student.
Mr. Alava acknowledges that adding 6th-grade students to the mix will present some new challenges, but he is excited for the change and is uniquely qualified to usher in the new era, as he began attending boarding school at age 11 and remained a boarding student all the way through high school.
“That experience has informed the way I interact with the kids, and I like to think it allows me to be more empathetic,” he said. “I’ve been through the same things and can be a better dorm parent because I understand what they’re going through. I’m very grateful that I went to boarding school and know it played a big role in making me who I am.”
Boarding at TASIS