“There is nothing better than to see the looks on the parents’ faces when picking up their teenagers on the last day of school: Some kids mature three to four years in the one year they’re with us,” says Andreas Ingerslev Larsen, head of Nordjyllands Idrætsefterskole Stidsholt. “Our students form lifelong friendships, develop skills based on their interests and get to know themselves in a whole new way.”
Like other Danish efterskoler (independent residential schools for people between 14 and 18 years of age), Stidsholt emphasises the development of a broader range of skills than traditional schools. Students at efterskoler study academic subjects like maths, Danish and English, but other non-traditional ‘lineal’ subjects are weighed equally. The most important skills efterskole students learn are those which will help them throughout their lives, such as personal responsibility, interpersonal relationships and how to pursue one’s passions. “Our students come to see that school can be fun. Learning is much more easy when students enjoy themselves and are encouraged to pursue their passions.”
Stidsholt is an idrætsefterskole, which focus on health. Their six lineal subjects are football, handball, e-sports, fitness, swimming and badminton. It is possible to combine two to three of these, and everyone takes several additional smaller electives like media, golf or nutrition. “The electives that we offer change a little every year according to what the students’ interests are,” Larsen explains. “Our aim is to allow our students to specialise in their main interest, allowing them to pursue a professional career in, say, football, but to make sure they come out as well-rounded individuals at the same time.”
A home away from home – and not just for Danes
While efterskoler are a uniquely Danish concept dating back to N.F.S. Grundtvig’s nineteenth-century ideas of self-realisation and enlightenment, Stidsholt welcomes in non-Danish students too. Students come from Denmark, the Faroe Islands and Greenland but also from Norway, Sweden and Iceland. “It’s a bit of an adventure, and there’s no better and more natural way to make lifelong Danish friends or to gain a network of in Denmark for later careers,” Larsen explains. “Norwegians and Swedes have the option to submit written texts in their own language. Overall, however, we’ve found that students pick up Danish and Danish culture very quickly.”
During term time, students live at Stidsholt full-time. The school becomes a home, and students get to know each other and their teachers very quickly. Stidsholt has an exceptional team of teachers who have all either been trained to the highest level within the field that they teach or had professional careers as athletes, such as the badminton and swimming coaches. The e-sports teacher, too, has played professionally for AGF Esport. As at other efterskoler, students and teachers often form strong bonds. The teachers are in charge, but the students are treated as individuals and with respect. Due to the residential nature of the school, members of staff are able to provide social and academic support and tutoring.
Many of the labs and classrooms, such as the art studio, are open to students outside of class hours, letting curious students branch out and explore new hobbies and interests. On Saturdays, students arrange game or movie nights, sports and creative pursuits like bake-offs while on Fridays and Sundays, private busses are provided so that students can take trips into Aalborg, the nearest city. “We’re in quite a remote area of northern Jutland,” Larsen says. “The school is its own lovely little
community, and we’re not far from the beach and smack-bang in the middle of lots of lovely fields and countryside, which is great for all our outdoor pursuits and our students’ mental health.”
At Stidsholt, ‘health’ encompasses much more than just physical health. “Being physically healthy is hugely important, and it’s a big part of the school, but mental health and social health are equally important. It’s absolutely crucial to us that our students learn how to take care of their mental health and to recognise how they’re feeling and why they feel that way,” Larsen notes. “It’s also inevitable that our students’ social wellbeing comes up. For many, it’s their first time away from home and living with strangers, so that often takes some figuring out, but they come out as healthier individuals.”
“Our most important lesson might be how to have a good, healthy and beneficial relationship with yourself and with each other. And though it’s always a sad day when the year is over, the relationships formed at Stidsholt continue long after their time here. Last year’s students have just been back here for their first reunion, and it’s a profound pleasure to follow them all on their onwards journeys,” Larsen concludes.