The parents at Copenhagen International School strive to create a strong community among one another in support of the school.
Photographs: Copenhagen International School
Text: Sarah Redohl
When Fernando Bermejo moved from Madrid to Copenhagen in 2015, he only knew a couple of people in Denmark and had never been to Copenhagen. “Without ever having set foot in Denmark, we decided to go for it,” he said. Although the positive things he and his family heard about Copenhagen proved true, they still arrived without a support network.
“When my kids became part of Copenhagen International School (CIS), I became part of that community, too,” he recalled. Even before Fernando joined the school board in January 2020 (he is now vice chair of the board), the CIS community had become the family’s local support network. “Most people who are part of the school don’t have family around, so the school becomes your family away from family.”
The parents at CIS have strived to create a strong community among one another, not only through formal structures like the school board and Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) but also informally through friendships and a sense of shared community spirit.
Poornima Luthra, chair of the school’s board of governors, first lived in Copenhagen in 2005 and 2006, “but living here without children was a completely different ballgame,” she said. So when she and her husband returned to Copenhagen from Singapore in 2015, she faced new concerns despite returning to a familiar city.
CIS parents were there to answer her questions, from winterwear worries to where to buy certain foods. That’s part of what makes the CIS parent community special; parents help one another settle into life in Denmark.
"At CIS, the children - and parents - will make friends from all over the world, and some of these friendships will last forever." - Fernando Bermejo
For example, the PTA connects new families to a ‘buddy family’ with children of similar ages and the same nationality, if possible. “Then you have someone to ask where to find the marmite and those sorts of questions,” said PTA member Jackie Williams. They also put on an annual presentation sharing advice for new expats, from grocery shopping tips to avoiding tickets in car parks.
It’s a resource Fernando wishes he’d had from day one. “I got ticketed the very first time I drove a car in Denmark,” he recalls. With help from other CIS parents, he adds, “not everyone has to learn the hard way.” The sizable portion of the CIS community comprised of Danish families is also an asset, offering insight into Danish culture. “Besides what we learn from the PTA, so much information comes from conversations with the Danish families.”
For Jackie, being part of the PTA was an opportunity to give back to the community and a great way to make friends. “I found a lot of like-minded people in the PTA,” she said. The PTA enriches the school experience not only for the children at CIS but also the parents. For example, they put on activities fairs with opportunities for children and adults, from exercise boot camps to book clubs.
Fernando estimates that 90 percent of the friends he’s made in Denmark are part of the CIS community. “At CIS, the children - and parents - will make friends from all over the world, and some of those friendships will last forever,” he said.
This is something Poornima has experienced firsthand. “No matter where you go in the world, you’re likely to find a CIS family,” she said. So even when she returns to Singapore, she enjoys meeting up with CIS families who have moved there. “That’s a beautiful treasure, and one I hope to keep when we’re on the other side of the pandemic.”
Serve the school
Eight of the nine school board members are also parents, so they directly impact the school’s fiscal health, governance, and risk management, in addition to promoting the vision and mission of CIS. “Any school is a partnership between children, parents, and teachers,” Poornima said, “but the children are at the heart of everything we do.”
"I found a lot of like-minded people in the pta." - Jackie Williams
CIS parents are heavily involved in creating a multicultural experience for the children at CIS, whether through cultural lessons, holiday events, or the school’s annual international festival. The latter celebrates the cultures of more than 80 countries represented at CIS. “Every year, the festival reminds me how much of a community we really are,” Jackie said.