Lanna International School celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, a most impressive milestone for one of Northern Thailand’s premier international schools. This achievement is even more outstanding when considering the school’s very humble beginnings as a small homeschool. For so many years, parents lacked choices for their children’s education here in Chiang Mai until the development of Lanna International School.
Today, Lanna International School (also known as LANNA) is happily settled into its spanking new location in Hang Dong, a spacious and sprawling purpose-built world-standard international school, which is now the second home to nearly 200 teachers and staff and 1,000 students between the ages of 2 to 18 years old who come from over 40 countries around the world. The beautiful new campus, over the past six years, has now finally combined all students, having moved first the younger, then the older children, from its original campus.
As we walked around the school, watching the primary school children playing on natural-looking jungle gyms in their lush green garden, high schoolers running around a state-of-the-art air-conditioned and indoor basketball court, swimmers slicing through the waters of the covered pool, peeking our heads into spacious and smart classrooms, and even seeing a few cheeky monkeys frolicking in what appears to an honest-to-God mini water park, it is obvious that LANNA has come a very long way from its early days as a peripatetic homeschool, moving from one location to the next as it slowly but steadily expanded over the past few decades.
“My husband was from Minnesota, United States, and we had three children,” Surin Demuth, LANNA’s founding owner, told us of how the school first came about. “We owned a Thai restaurant in the US, but as our children began to grow, we decided that we wanted to move back to Thailand so that they could experience our, perhaps, softer culture. However, there was only one international school in Chiang Mai at the time, and they didn’t go beyond 8th grade. They also didn’t accept Thai children. We looked around and realised that the only choices were to send our children to Bangkok or the US, neither of which we wanted as we wanted to live together. We also came to understand that other parents in Chiang Mai must be facing the same hard choices.”
And so it was that Khun Surin and her husband made the bold decision to start a homeschool, inviting anyone around at the time to join them in their endeavour.
“From the start, we knew that we wanted academic excellence in a place filled with great love and care,” Khun Surin stated, an insistence and belief that has become a mantra for the school. “Chiang Mai’s international community was very different then. Thai students whose parents spoke English would still send their children to the half dozen grand Thai schools in Chiang Mai. There was a large group of Zimbabwean expatriates then working in the tobacco industry, and they were very supportive of our initiative as they, too, needed a good school for their children. So we managed to start the school with their help. We steadily grew over the years, moving campuses five times. I now have a new business partner who has made it possible for us to move to a permanent campus. So this is the start of a very new and exciting chapter for LANNA.”
LANNA, now in its forever home, offers the British IGCSE curriculum for Year 10 and 11 students as well as the widest range of A Levels in Northern Thailand for the year 12 and 13 students. Its extensive range of courses offered makes LANNA one of the few schools in the North of Thailand to do so.
“The IGCSE and A Levels are rigourous and recognised world wide. It also opens doors to universities and opportunities around the world,” explained Rob Stewart, the Australian Head of School who comes with a most impressive background in education. “Asian parents also love the British-based IGCSE and A Levels, and we are seeing many more Thai, Chinese and other Asian families in Chiang Mai these days who are looking for a more international education and outlook for their children. The demographics have changed completely from thirty years ago.”
LANNA is not lost in the mix of what is now nearly two dozen international schools in Chiang Mai. Its pedigree is established, and the only challenge now is how to grow without losing any of its commitment to personalised care to all of its students as well as its academic rigour – the two core principles of Khun Surin.
“Like all schools around the world, we suffered during the pandemic,” explained Rob. “However, we continued to provide not just exceptional education, but support to students, their families and teachers so that they too could survive the crisis as unscathed as possible.” Rob went on to explain that the school has set up a strong student services department including guidance counseling that offers any assistance to children who are struggling with social anxiety or any other pandemic-related or personal crises.
“When parents drop their children off and pick them up, we are always there to greet them and have a chat,” said Justin Byers, a Canadian teacher and Deputy Head of Primary who has been at LANNA for 9 years. “It is the personal touch that is so important. The school may have nearly tripled its number of students over the past ten years, but the ambition hasn’t changed in that they want a good education for kids. It is just now loftier; LANNA is working to become recognised on a national level for its academic strengths.”
And flex it should, as LANNA’s graduates have gone on to study at some of the world’s best universities with the past few years of graduates matriculating into Thailand’s and the world’s best universities–from UCL and the London School of Economics & Politics in the UK, to University of Melbourne and UNSW in Australia, to the University of Toronto and UBC in Canada, to Harvard University and NYU in the USA, to top Thai universities such as Chulalongkorn and Mahidol.
“LANNA’s sense of community has made me feel so welcome in the seven years that I have been here,” wrote Lizzie, a graduate of the class of 2021. “It has helped me develop openness, leadership and communication skills. I will carry the experiences that formed these skills into my future, and I am incredibly grateful for LANNA’s sense of family.” Her sentiment was repeated over and over again by a number of alumni we heard from.
With more students coming from countries across Asia, many with low proficiency in English, LANNA has also accelerated its support for special English courses to fast-track academically strong students with language so that they can soon catch up with their peers. A great number of workshops, seminars, training sessions and projects have been implemented since the pandemic to support learning difficulties and other special needs of students.
“We know how important well-trained teachers are, and our extensive professional development programme is constantly updating our teacher’s and support staff’s knowledge and skills so that they can meet the ever-changing needs of our times,” continued Rob.
“We are now in a great position to really start looking at how LANNA can become the international school of choice in the new globally-facing city of Chiang Mai, as we and the city continue to grow,” explained Khun Surin. “We will continue to do what we believe is best for our children, focusing on education and family.”
Celebrating 30 years!