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January 31, 2023updated 01 Feb 2023 7:07am

Jesse Elzinga of Sevenoaks School: the American headmaster transforming British education

By Spear's

Headmaster of the Spear’s School of the Year award, Jesse Elzinga discusses Sevenoaks School’s upcoming 600th anniversary and providing students with the best tools to flourish

At the beginning of every school term, Sevenoaks headmaster Jesse Elzinga gives his students a simple message: ‘Carpe diem, seize the day.’ And, by and large, they do.

‘We have wonderful students who bring their own sense of purpose and restlessness,’ he enthuses. ‘There are so many wonderful opportunities at Sevenoaks, and the students come in and make the most of those every day.’

This starts with a breadth of education that comes courtesy of the International Baccalaureate Diploma, which the school has championed since it became the first UK school to teach the IB programme in 1978.

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Elzinga, who hails from the US, adds that the internationalism of the curriculum is echoed in the make-up of Sevenoaks’ co-ed student body. Situated ‘outside of London but not too far out’, the school also has a wealth of specialised facilities on its campus.

‘[We have] two different drama studios as well as a West End-style theatre and a concert hall. So there are amazing opportunities in the performing arts. We also have a thriving art department. All our art teachers are practising artists, and one, sculptor Oliver Barratt, has public commissions at Everest Base Camp and the Antarctic,’ says Elzinga.

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Meanwhile, the benefits of physical activity, through hockey, rugby, swimming and cross country, a combined cadet force and the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, ensure ‘everyone develops these good habits’.

The expert focus on pastoral care and wellbeing has seen the school become a key part of Harvard’s studies for its Human Flourishing Programme. ‘We’re one of the few schools in the world that does research… And I think we’ve learned a lot.’ The studies, he says, have shown students ‘what it means to flourish’ and given them practical advice on living a balanced, healthy lifestyle.

Pupils are seizing the day academically, too. Sevenoaks is the top co-ed all-IB boarding school in the UK and among the top five ‘large-cohort’ IB schools in the world. ‘At Sevenoaks it’s cool to be clever,’ says Elzinga. ‘It’s an inspiring environment to have the children and the staff committed in that way.’

Sevenoaks will celebrate its 600th anniversary in 2032. Before then, as well as building an endowment for the school, Elzinga hopes to make it one of the first carbon net-zero schools in the UK.

‘Our aim is to do the best job that we can every day in providing an education for young people in our care – but to have that external verification of the Spear’s Award is so lovely.’

The Spear’s School of the Year Award is kindly sponsored by Thuso.

Main image: Jesse Elzinga photographed for Spear’s at the Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square by Sebastian Nevols.

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