Preparing High School Students for College Life: An educational analysis of a different kind of ‘Morfosis’ The ACS Athens model

by: Stefanos Gialamas, Ph.D., President, ACS Athens
Peggy Pelonis, Director of Student Affairs, ACS Athens
John Papadakis, Director of Enrollment Management & Community Affairs

Athens Plus, June 19TH, 2009

Preparing students for college life and, more generally, for life beyond high school is a key challenge for many educators and secondary educational institutions. Above all, today more than ever, educators must prepare students for the unknown and the unpredictable: careers not yet known to us, opportunities that we cannot imagine, and a world so rapidly changing that we likely won’t be able to recognize it in 30 or 40 years.

Some of the questions that then arise are: What and how shall we teach our students? What skills do we expect them to develop? And what type of processes shall we help them cultivate? At ACS Athens we believe that the answers derive from the teachings of the ancient Greeks and are contained in the concept of “Morfosis” – that is, education beyond the classroom that concerns the whole person and cultivates strengths while minimizing weaker areas.

The Morfosis educational paradigm is sustainable when education is Holistic, Meaningful and Harmonious (HMH). Holistic, as defined above, suggests an emphasis on the whole person and an appreciation for the differences between individual students, Meaningful refers to the idea that the subject matter being taught must hold meaning for the individual in order for it to make sense and be applicable within their “world.” And Harmonious maintains that academics, athletics, activities and civic responsibility must be harmoniously balanced. Thus, sustainable

HMH education must rely on specifically defined principles and values that enhance the concept of living a full life with ethos, as dictated by the ancient Greeks.

In this sense, because it is all-encompassing, Morfosis is well-suited to lay the foundation for success in higher education and, more importantly, in life itself. As we are well aware, teaching and learning does not only take place in the classroom, but on the playground, during activities, in assemblies, during group projects and in both team and individual sports. The seeds planted during the early years produce fruits that will eventually blossom and continue to grow in higher education. In order to adopt and implement such an educational paradigm, academic institutions need leaders and faculty who embrace and apply the analogous philosophy. The atmosphere of the school must exude the philosophy itself, and an individual must be able to “pick up” the energy the moment they enter school grounds.

Therefore, as we look at primary and secondary education, one of the most fundamental questions being asked is how many of the skills acquired during these years really are necessary and sufficient to ensure student success in college? What knowledge is transferable? Are students able to apply the knowledge in different situations and utilize it in order to make educated decisions or to provide solutions to challenges they face as they move from one culture to another? How well do we indeed understand student learning styles? And how difficult is it for colleges and universities to train their faculty and staff to provide bridging skills for young people during their time of transition?

Indeed, for primary educators the challenge is not only to provide an exciting, relevant and meaningful curriculum to their students, but also to understand the secondary curriculum and to align all efforts in an appropriate direction. Likewise, secondary educators must understand primary curriculum and must agree about the type of skills that must be developed in primary school that will eventually translate to middle school and ensure the success of students at all levels.

To the same end, secondary educators and administrators must not only focus on understanding the strengths and talents of their students so as to provide the best possible curriculum and learning opportunities, but they must also understand the environment of higher education. Their task is also to prepare students to succeed in their transition to College education and to endow them with strong tools which will not only give them a ticket to higher educational institutions, but will secure their success. Similarly, faculty and administrators of higher education institutions focus on analogous goals for their institutions, and rightly so.

The bridging method proposed requires a reciprocal understanding of both worlds by both entities. Students are guided, at best, in high school, to do what is necessary to meet the required criteria of the desired higher educational institution.

As the students gets closer to the last two years of their high school career, the focus seems to suddenly switch to achieving the necessary grades, test scores, oh and… yes… enough extracurricular activities to provide a great package for college acceptance.

But it is clear that the most successful student entering college is the student that is happy with the institution, the location, and the subject they have chosen. What then ensures a happy student? It is making sure that there is a match made in heaven; a perfect fit. To achieve this goal three prerequisites are necessary:

  1. To know the student academically, intellectually, emotionally, and ethically to the greatest extent possible.
  2. To understand the student’s personal and professional goals in life, and
  3. To know the higher educational institution.

Knowing the student as a whole means collecting information and putting pieces of the puzzle together that will create a picture of who the student really is, what are the student’s strengths and weaknesses, what life experiences have influenced the student’s thinking, how does the student cope with challenging, unforeseen and even successful circumstances, what interests does the student have outside of academics, what values does the student uphold, what are the student’s limitations. This approach allows the development of a strong academic foundation, emotional stability and strategies to cope with internal and external pressure, together with a physical well being enhanced and enriched with strong principles and values.

The educational experience, then, must be meaningful for each learner, according to each one’s strengths, talents and dreams… The learner should internalize that the knowledge, skills, principles and values obtained are the defining ingredients of his/her life trajectory; all integrate and define who the learner is and what signature he/she will leave in his/her life’s journey.

While it is important to collect information via the websites, publications and alumni of a school, nothing can replace the personal understanding of the environment within the institution. This can only be achieved with a meaningful visit to the institution itself. No amount of information received will replace “the feel” one gets by being on the grounds of an institution, attending a class or two, talking with students and faculty, seeing the facilities and experiencing the reception that is extended.

Education is not only a continuous act of acquiring skills, knowledge and problem solving abilities, but also a way of learning and making educated decisions in academic establishments and, most importantly, in life. In this journey, the transition from one environment to another must be smooth, as painless as possible and meaningful in a holistic way.

As travelers between the two worlds, secondary and university education, we find it refreshing and inspiring to work with colleagues–leading educators at both ends of the spectrum that have the same goals– to teach, inspire and guide students to be the best that they can be. It is only natural, then, that we would want to see these two worlds unite in an effort to take education to another level. The Holistic, Meaningful, and Harmonious connection between the two worlds, we are convinced, will not only produce better learners but better teachers as well. There is no better example of Morfosis in action and no better preparation for a world yet unknown… but just around the corner.


Morfosis lays the foundation for success in higher education and, more importantly, for life itself because it is all- encompassing.

■ Secondary educators and administrators must not only focus on understanding the strengths and talents of their students so as to provide the best possible curriculum and learning opportunities, but they must also understand the higher education environment.