Situated in the picturesque medieval town of Sigtuna, Sigtunaskolan Humanistiska Läroverket (SSHL) is Sweden’s best-known boarding school. Founded over 100 years ago, SSHL, which King Carl Gustaf XVI attended, is today a modern, internationally minded academic school, attracting a vibrant blend of both Swedish and international students from over 45 countries. Currently, over 450 boarding and day students from year seven attend SSHL.
Dr Margret Benedikz, the boarding school’s principal, believes that what makes SSHL special isn’t its stunning location and outstanding facilities, but the small, close-knit community where staff are actively involved and students have virtually unlimited access to mentors and teachers.
SSHL places great emphasis on celebrating and upholding a host of Swedish traditions
“Our mission is very much to help every single SSHL pupil develop to the fullest of their potential,” says Benedikz. “So we ensure that classes are small, and that staff are easily available to help.”
Originally from the UK, but with over 20 years experience in the university and school sectors in Sweden, Benedikz is aware students face considerable challenges.
“It’s an increasingly competitive world,” says Benedikz. “We encourage our students to embrace technology, internationalism, innovation and creativity. We want them to be the best prepared to meet the challenges that will face them in their further studies and careers. We believe in a holistic approach to schooling and we strive to help our students develop into well-rounded, academically outstanding global citizens.”
The boarding school’s unique focus on leadership training, in both academic and extracurricular activities, is part of this as it prepares its young people for the workplace. “Strong personal skills are just as important to succeed in life as academic excellence,” says Benedikz.
The results speak for themselves. SSHL consistently places near the top in both national and international exam rankings, and each year students from the school go on to study at some of the best universities in the world.
A beautiful backdrop
Just outside Stockholm and only a 20-minute drive from Arlanda airport, SSHL sits perched above the hill overlooking Sigtuna. The well-equipped boarding houses are at the heart of the campus, enabling students to experience the very best of life at the school, and all of the academic support and extra curricular activities this entails.
“The majority of boarding students stay for three years,” says Benedikz. “But some stay as long as six. The houses at SSHL are an integral part of our close-knit community which builds a sense of family spirit and belonging where students often make friends for life.”
Karl Svensson, who graduated in 2006, felt a real sense of belonging as a boarder at SSHL. “I was incredibly happy there,” he says. “I lived at Ängsbacken with the guys there and it felt like coming home after a period of moving around and not quite finding oneself.
“We were a pretty sporty home. The education was very good and the teachers and other adults at the school were very close and approachable. It was also about learning to have respect for the other students and being able to manage people at close range. There were up to 30 students in one boarding house, and you had to learn to compromise and deal with different situations.”
Attracting students from around the world from both Swedish and international families, SSHL places great emphasis on celebrating and upholding a whole host of Swedish traditions to promote an understanding of the best of Sweden’s culture. For children from Swedish families who have grown up away from Sweden it is particularly important, but is also appreciated by those with no family connection to Sweden.
“SSHL students learn and experience first-hand how the natural environment is such an important part of Swedish identity,” explains Benedikz. “We give them opportunities to participate in activities dependent on the season.”
In spring and summer students make the most of the good weather by swimming in the lakes, going orienteering, rowing, having barbecues, and more. In the winter there’s cross-country skiing, skating on the lakes, ice fishing and other opportunities such as making use of our own slalom ski slope.
“One of the most popular events is when third years go hiking together in the mountain range of northern Sweden,” says Karin Fröman, who grew up overseas and never lived in Sweden before coming to SSHL. For her, studying at the school was a way of getting to know her home country.
“Dad worked for IKEA and we moved around a lot because of that and I grew up in Singapore. I lived there for ten years before we started talking about how it would be a good idea to move back to Sweden, find our roots and try being European rather than being Asian. It was a bit strange to move back, but it worked well at SSHL with the teachers, house parents and my peers.”
Because some students have grown up abroad not speaking Swedish, SSHL offers programmes taught solely in English alongside the national Swedish programmes on offer.
“We were the first school in Sweden, together with Kungsholmen, to offer the IB Diploma Programme which is taught exclusively in English,” says Benedikz.
The boarding school also offers the IB MYP programme for pupils starting in grade seven. The English-speaking programmes don’t just appeal to international students – many of the school’s day pupils and Swedish speakers choose the IB programme as preparation for their future studies or career, recognising the value of studying in English.
Life outside the classroom
Although SSHL puts a strong focus on academic excellence, the school stresses the importance of extracurricular activities. “At SSHL we believe it’s important to work hard together, but also play hard,” says Benedikz.
During the term, boarders share in a wealth of activities – from film nights and get-togethers with other houses, to sporting and cultural events. Houses also participate in the ‘House Series’ – a range of inter-house competitions involving both sports and other activities. Day students are also assigned a house and are as much a part of house life as boarders.
Activities are designed to enrich the school experience and foster a breadth of outlook, a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect. Charlotta Månsson, who graduated in 2005, remembers her time at SSHL, and particularly the extracurricular activities, fondly.
“I think the staff [were] fantastically dedicated, both in the classroom during the days but especially after school with fantastic sporting opportunities. I was involved in many of the school teams: volleyball, football, hockey, swimming and athletics. There were wonderful opportunities, enthusiastic trainers and coaches, and plenty of competitions, both within Europe and between private schools in Sweden,” she says. “You really notice how much is actually on offer when you have graduated: all the different groups and activities with support and resources, amazing staff who take part and help and give support.”
The unique SSHL spirit
With its highly qualified staff, traditions and strong sense of identity, SSHL is a unique blend of Swedish and international education and culture. Located in stunning surroundings, but close to the Swedish capital, there is something special about SSHL.
“Everyone at the school is dedicated to ensuring the school is a safe, secure, academically exciting place to live and learn,” says Margret Benedikz. “SSHL graduates come back to visit us regularly and the school has an extremely active alumni association who take pride in their school. I think that shows just how much Sigtunaskolan Humanistiska Läroverket comes to mean for its students.”