Snow Classes

Snow classes are a source of questions and sometimes concern from primary parents, so here below you can find answers to questions that frequently come up.

What are the snow classes (classes de neige)?

All classes in the fourth year primary of EEBI (both Uccle and Berkendael) go to a ski resort for some 10 days in January each year. The European Schools of Woluwe and Luxemburg have the same practice, but not the other European Schools. The activities include lessons in down-hill skiing, visits to local alpine industries, and--an EEBI special--building igloos. The children have school lessons for half of each day.

The resort used by EEBI is Leysin in Switzerland. Travel is by overnight train, with coach connections at each end. The trips are organised by the school, in close collaboration with CPAN (www.cpan.be) , which organises snow classes for Belgian schools. The children are lodged in hostels run by INTERSOC (www.intersoc.be), which specialises in providing accommodation for children. The school arranges the transport to Gare du Midi, ski lifts, transport of luggage and after-ski activities. CPAN provides monitors to assist the teachers, and organises the lodging, ski equipment, lessons and train journey.

Why snow classes rather than other activities?

Generations of European School pupils have been to snow classes, and find them to be one of their most memorable experiences during their years at school. Pupils rise to the challenge of learning to ski, or of helping others to learn, in a multi-cultural environment away from home. They learn something of the alpine economy and way of life. The APEEE undertook a survey of parents in December 2013, and found that a very large majority were in favour of the snow classes, but sought to reduce their cost.

Surely parents can take their children skiing themselves. Why does the school take them?

Trips to any destination, whether it be the seaside, the countryside or the mountains, can all be undertaken by a family. Going on a trip with classmates and without parents adds the dimensions of promoting independence, self-reliance and cooperation with other pupils of many nationalities. They are a powerful learning experience.

Why have snow classes in 4th primary? The children are so young!

School trips for classes in a secondary year are impractical, as the absence of a teacher disrupts teaching of his or her subject for students of other years.  The absence for 9 days of primary school class teachers has little effect on other classes. Trips for P5 classes promote the use of their second language, their knowledge of which would be insufficient in P4. So P4 is the oldest class possible.

Why choose Leysin in Switzerland, a non-EU country?

Only the higher alpine resorts give a reasonable guarantee of snow cover. The Ardennes, for example, would prove disappointing in most years. It would be impractical and even more expensive to lodge the children in hotels, so only destinations with hostels specialising in school classes can be selected. CPAN and INTERSOC have other destinations in France and Austria, but few large enough to accommodate the EEBI group of some 200-220 children and 35 adults. Those which are large enough are booked up on a multi-year basis by other European Schools and by Belgian schools. An APEEE working group tried to find destinations managed by other organisations, but the few available were too expensive. The working group encouraged the school to try to change to Valmenier, the resort then used  by the Woluwe school, as it was a little cheaper and going by TGV would reduce travel time. This resort cannot however accommodate a second European school at acceptable dates. Leysin has over several years provided a very satisfactory service, so there is little incentive nor options for change.

The cost of the trip seems very high. Can it not be reduced?

The cost per pupil in the Luxemburg and Wolowe schools is much the same. Partly to save costs, the length of the Leysin trip was reduced to six days in 2014, but travelling time left too short a time on the spot, and saved little in costs. The Leysin centre states that it will no longer accept a shorter stay. Travel by coach would be cheaper than by train, but many parents refuse this option for safety reasons. APEEE continues to encourage the school to seek cheaper alternatives to Leysin. One possibility could be to split the ski classes over two periods of ten days, so that destinations with a smaller capacity can be considered. This approach was adopted for a recent trip to the European Space Centre. However it is unlikely to reduce costs by much, and would be more complicated to organise.

I cannot afford 890 €. What should I do?

Participation in snow classes is not obligatory, and the school makes arrangements for those who do not attend, in most cases for reasons of ill-health. However it would be a shame if a pupil were left out of the snow classes. Parents with low incomes, especially those who have to finance school trips for siblings in the same school year, may apply to Ms Saal who, after consulting the APEEE, allows payment by instalment and/or authorises a subsidy from a solidarity fund financed from the snow classes’ budgets.

What happens if my child gets ill or lost?

The school has undertaken an analysis of all the risks of things going wrong, and has prepared an appropriate mitigation action and response. For example, adults are on duty in each wagon of the train all night; nurses and a doctor are on the train and in the centre; there is always someone on the slopes to watch the ski groups and to resolve problems; and parents are kept informed of any issue, for example the late arrival of trains. An insurance policy covers medical expenses and repatriation.

Last update: 2018