Giampaolo at Helios Free School
Giampaolo from Italy finished the Pedagogy for Change programme (24 months) at the end of 2015. After gaining a lot of experience in both Denmark and Malawi, Giampaolo decided to join the teachers’ council at DRH Lindersvold, and trained DIs (Development Instructors) until April 2019.
“It was a great experience that helped me to grow as a teacher and a human being. A three-years journey full of experiences, new knowledge and challenges thanks to all the people I met in my teams at the school and with the help of my friends and colleagues.”
Giampaolo went on to continue a life of teaching in Denmark, taking on new challenges and adventures. Read his story in this article.
The unique concept of a Danish “Free School”
In 2019 I decided to take the chance to make a new step forward in my life-path, moving to work in a different environment, the one of a Danish “Friskole”. But first of all, I will explain what is a “Friskole”.
That means Denmark grant both a compulsory education and none compulsory schooling.
Free schools are thus an alternative to primary school and operate under the Friskole Act, which generally states that the friskole “must meet the teaching of the public primary school”. In Denmark, the free-school tradition dates back to the mid-1800s and today they reflect a wide range of schools based on different beliefs, that religious and other life values.
What is a "friskole"?
“Friskole”, literally “free school” is a broad school term that can offer education for children from kindergarten to 10th grade. Most often, “friskoles” have emerged as a parenting initiative under the section 76 of the Danish Constitution, which states:
§76 All children of school age shall be entitled to free instruction in primary schools. Parents or guardians making their own arrangements for their children or wards to receive instruction equivalent to the general primary school standard shall not be obliged to have their children or wards taught in a publicly provided school.
Another kind of “friskole” – based on humanism and community
“Friskole Helios” in Holsted is a school that promote a humanistic pedagogical approach based on principles such as learning by doing, the world is our classroom and the value of togetherness. All these are principles seen as a way to give a quality education and an open future to the young people who attend our school.
It is our job to meet every single student at eye level and provide a respectful and positive learning environment which respects each individual by including them in the school community, regardless of their initial behaviour. Together we explore what the students’ strengths and interests are and develop individual programmes that enable the students to thrive and learn and develop to their full potential.
A school for children who don’t fit in anywhere else
Through the years, Friskolen Helios specialized itself and made its name by working with a broad group of students that for many reasons couldn’t “fit” to the system of a formal Danish school. The authorities from local municipalities close the school ask us to take care of children coming from difficult social realities, maybe a past filled with abuses or with parents unable to take care of them.
This includes children and youth that suffer from neurological behavioural disorders such as ADHD, different levels of autism or impairments in vision and hearing. In the school they all find a place to develop their social skills, where they learn that nobody is left out, where they are challenged on a daily basis; all processes happening with teachers and pedagogues. In this way they learn how to overcome challenges in a positive way.
Experiencing a new school reality
The first months in Holsted were extremely active and a daily-based challenge. I went from the folk high school at Lindersvold where I was speaking English, to Holsted where most of the young people and adults speak only Danish. This obliged me to learn Danish. The efforts of the youngsters to try to communicate with me and their smiles while they heard my first sentences in Danish, have been and still are gold in my heart.
The environment in the school is extremely positive. Everybody, from the Headmaster to the teachers and volunteers, DI’s and DNSers (trainees from the DNS Teacher Training College), put all their energies to create an atmosphere where the children and young people can feel safe. Here they can build trust and from this base they are encouraged in develop themselves without fear of physical or psychological violence.
Contributing with my skills and interests
My work in the school is to support the development of each and every student in every possible way; from being in the position of a support-teacher, to being with the young people whilst cooking a meal that will make everybody happy. I always give all my experience, especially the ones I gained during the DI program I attended.
At this time of the year (spring), I am using my love for the nature to develop a good garden farming at the school together with the DIs and DNSers, trying as much as possible to involve both students and teachers because growing our own food is a fundamental skill we all need to learn.
Reflecting on twenty intensive months
One thing that many returning volunteers tell us that it is a relief to be back at the learning centre in Denmark – to reunite with the teachers and of course the team, if they haven’t been working in the same area. Seeing family and friends is of course great after such a long time abroad, but seeing people who have had similar experiences, people who have spent months and months in Malawi or another country as volunteers, is also very important.
Why? Because they understand what you have lived and the transformation you have been through. They understand you when you talk about an achievement which might seem slight compared to European standards. They can laugh at your stories, feel your exasperations at the multiple challenges facing marginalised communities, and discuss your conflicting feelings about privilege, solidarities and responsibility.
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The journey of a teacher travelling to remote areas of her country to learn and teach is both challenging and beautiful. A teacher must see the reality with her own eyes to bring about change.