JAMES LAMBERT is not only the Principal of Lantau International School; he’s also a long-time resident of Lantau, where he lives with wife Suzy and their two teenage children. In this interview, he gives us an insight into L.I.S. and how this green school maintains a strong focus on nature.
Tell us a bit about your background (anything you miss about “home”?) and your move to Hong Kong.
I’m from Liverpool in the UK. I miss family and friends, of course, and watching live sport – particularly Liverpool hopefully winning plenty more trophies in the coming years! I moved to Hong Kong with Suzy in 2000. My sister was living here and we thought it was an exciting place to live. I had just qualified as a teacher after spending several years working as a chemist, so we wanted a new adventure.
How long have you been at Lantau International School, and in what roles?
I started at L.I.S. in 2001 and Suzy joined shortly after. I was a P4/P5 teacher. The school was only in Tong Fuk then and we had around 30 children in total. I taught Upper Primary for many years, became the Vice Principal in 2012 and finally the Principal in 2020. Suzy is the school’s Vice Principal.
Give us a brief overview of the school.
L.I.S. was started in the mid 90s by Serge Berthier, who is still the Supervisor of the school. It is a family business and his daughter Anouk is the General Manager now. Originally, it only had a handful of children whose parents lived on South Lantau. Back then, the nearest international primary school was over in Central, and at least a two-hour trip. We have steadily grown over the years and now have three campuses in Pui O, Tong Fuk and Cheng Sha and run buses from Tong Chung and DB.
Pre-pandemic, we had around 230 children in the school, slightly less at the moment. We follow the UK curriculum with an emphasis on outdoor education and the environment. We say we are literally the “Greenest School in Hong Kong” due to our location; our philosophy and even our uniforms are green too!
Do most of the students live on Lantau? What are some ways they get to school?
We have the South Lantau children, who, when they are not on the beach, bike and walk to school, but as mentioned we also have lots of children from Tung Chung, DB and further afield. Over the last year or so, we are seeing more people looking for a change of pace from the Mid-Levels areas and moving over to South Lantau.
Where is the school located and what’s nearby?
The three best beaches on Lantau (and possibly the whole of Hong Kong!) – we have a campus close to each one. Pui O for the Upper Campus, Tong Fuk for Lower Campus and Cheung Sha for our Reception.
Apart from the beaches, we’re close to hiking trails, the Big Buddha and Tai O. And Tung Chung is only 20 minutes away for those who like to shop! Lots of great restaurants along the South Lantau Road too.
Lantau is a great place for nature; how does the school embrace and utilise this setting in its programmes?
If we can get the children out of the classroom, we will. PE is often done on the beach, for example, and we do lots of science activities around the campuses too. Of course, we have our annual Green Week and invite experts in the animals around us to talk to the children. We have so much incredible wildlife right on our doorstep. The children are so knowledgeable about the environment and threats to the animals’ habitats.
What is the Mandarin programme like at L.I.S.?
There are daily Mandarin lessons for the main Primary campuses, and we recently started a bilingual programme in our Reception.
What else does your school do differently?
In many ways, we are very traditional; we set high standards for the children and have a good reputation academically. We are different perhaps because of our small community setting, which enables us to build strong relationships with the students and their families.
Are there opportunities for parents to get involved at the school?
Yes, we have lots of activities (in normal times!). Camping on Lantau, school fairs and sports days are all done with the help of our generous parents. We have many parents who are pilots, for example, who are always willing to help out during their free time and tend to enjoy our outdoor activities.
Do you live on Lantau? What do you like most about it, and do you have a favourite place or neighbourhood?
I have lived in DB for over 20 years, which is another great place on Lantau for shops and restaurants. I love the beaches, hiking and food! My favourite spot after school on a Friday is meal in The Gallery Restaurant in Tong Fuk. Lantau is amazing and so diverse. Tung Chung and DB are lovely areas and convenient for commutes to Central, and once over on the South, you can’t help but relax. Things move at Lantau time, which is such a pleasant change to the hectic nature of Hong Kong.
Lantau is almost a hidden gem in Hong Kong; those who relocate never regret it. You get more for your money, a great, green environment – and a fantastic little school right on your doorstep!
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