Patricia Cooper was the Social Studies Department Head from 2012 to 2015. She is now co-leading the development of curriculum for the new LAS Middle School.
Why do you want to connect the middle school students to our local area?
Our students are moving to a new place that’s very unknown to them. The middle school will be the first time they’ll experience our local environment, when they’ll realize, “This is my new home”. They need grounding. Part of a family’s decision in sending their children here is how special our local environment is. But it’s so abstract for young people when they arrive. They want to build a narrative of their surroundings. Let’s help them build it based on real knowledge.
Does this area have a rich history?
This is a huge neolithic region. We have these menhirs, or “standing stones”, up and down the Rhône Valley. There’s a big standing stone very near Leysin in the Forclaz, where during the summer solstice the sun shines between the two prominent peaks above Leysin and strikes the stone. So during the Neolithic age someone was moving big stones around here. In burial tombs down in the valley we have hunters with weapons. They’ve even found an ancient hunter’s canoe. It’s so awesome.
In Neuchatel, one of the top ten European museums on ancient times talks about a guy who’s buried at one of the principle spots at Stonehenge. DNA says he came from Neuchatel, which is also where he got his advanced metalwork. He might have been a priest who came from here to lead Stonehenge construction. There’s just so much here. Our home is a world archeological treasure.
What about more recent history?
The written history starts with Caesar, who was sent from Rome to invade our local peoples, the Helvetians. Then he snuck off to Gaul, where he made his name. His book The Gaelic Wars offers the first written history of the Helvetian people.
After Caesar you come to the Nubian decimation in nearby St. Maurice, still during Roman times. Also all the other Roman sites that were built down there, including the amphitheater in Martigny, and the thermal baths of Lavay Bains, all of which we’ll take our students to.
It seems clear that people moved up to Leysin for defensive security. An initial wave came from Helvetians fleeing the Roman invasion. But the huge waves of mountain settlements were to escape the Germanics, and Visigoths, as they headed south. We have clear evidence of that period.
A thousand years later, we have chalets with dates from the 1400s, which we’ll be studying. And then there are the salt mines in Bex. They’re why the Bernese counts occupied this area for so long. Salt was like gold in the Middle Ages. Right next to Leysin was La Guerre des Ormonts. Napoleon’s troops were trying to free this section from the Bernese oppressors. The Ormonts people resisted Napoleon, while Leysin accepted his new order. There’s now a movement to preserve the battlefield.
There are so many local stories. When the Bernese dukes conquered the region, locals were supposed to pay their taxes by sending logs down the river. But the dukes had never seen the Grande Eau in the tight canyon below Leysin. The logs splintered into matchsticks by the time they got through.
I’m so excited that we have a curriculum where we have the time and the space to build what our students really need to learn.
How will this help young people?
Local knowledge is going to be healthy for our students. My own kids went to Swiss schools before starting at LAS. In their school in nearby Diablerets they learned to “Respect the mountain”. The mountain above us was the metaphor for respecting the environment, safety, everything. When my kids transferred to LAS, one of their first comments was “Mom, these kids don’t respect the mountain”. We need to build this spirit of respect into our students when they first arrive.
(AI – interview Patricia Cooper 151127 – short edit 1 (670 words))