Q&A with the President Dr. Stefanos Gialamas, Ethos, Winter 2015
Q: What is «Success» compared to «Significance»? How does this apply to an Educational Institution?
A: The dictionary defines Success as accomplishing an aim or purpose. Significance, on the other hand, is defined as something being important or worthy of attention; something noteworthy.
A Successful Academic Institution is accomplishing its mission, vision, beliefs and goals with great success. Therefore it is closely related to the commitments that the institution itself has set as goals. Different academic institutions manifest their success in varied ways. For example, if the mission of an academic institution is to “offer a career oriented education” to its students, then one measure of success could be the percentage of job placements for its graduates within 6 months of their graduation.
However, a Significant Academic Institution fulfills two conditions:
Sustaining Excellence, in the process of fulfilling its mission, vision, commitments and goals for all stakeholders; students, faculty, staff, administration, board members, parents, and alumni
Continuously serves humanity (the community the institution belongs to as well as the region, the nation, and the world). In other words, the institution is engaged in transforming the community, for the benefit of all people, especially for the less fortunate or less privileged. These institutions are driven by the belief that “the world is changed by our example and not only by our opinion”.
Q: Does the responsibility of Education evolve over time?
A: According to Jenkins (in Hayden and Thompson, 1998, p93): “… teaching students about the realities of the future seems to be a responsibility we have no right to shirk if our education is to mean anything. Teaching about these realities without exploring solutions and the action students, as future citizens, can take would seem a barren response to a very real future shock.
Therefore academic institutions now more than ever play a leading role in preparing young people to cope with and to be productive members of an increasingly global society. The opportunities and the learning outcomes for students attending schools are directly related to the educational experience they receive (Gialamas S. & Pelonis P. 2008). So what should education address today that is different from the past?
Education should be about molding human beings capable of responding to the fast and multiple changes in today’s society rather than being usurped by these changes and becoming devoid of emotions, incapable of forming community bonds, their only purpose that of becoming organizational drones trained for specific jobs (Gialamas. S, Pelonis, P. 2008).
Furthermore, as Gellar (in Hayden, Thompson and Walker 2006, p31) rightly indicates, we live in a small and fragile world, the citizens of which are increasingly dependent on one another. Thus knowledge of subjects is not enough.
Q: Why is knowledge of subjects not enough today? What more should the schools provide to the students?
A: Schools have a responsibility to adhere and promote universal values. This is precisely what distinguishes internationally-minded schools from others; as well as providing a curriculum that teaches world history, literature and looks at the interdependence of cultures and nations, international mindedness also aims at upholding certain ‘universal’ values and transferring them to the children it houses. Thus the responsibility of educating becomes an ethical one as well.
According to Hayden and Thompson (in Hayden, Thompson and Walker 2006, p40) many have aimed at defining international institutions without consensus. Hayden and Thompson suggest that we think along the lines of ‘international mindedness’ which, according to the UNESCO declaration (Hill in Hayden, Thompson & Walker 2006, p21), considers certain universal values, among them ‘freedom, intercultural understanding and non-violent conflict resolution’. In this sense one could argue that internationally -minded schools provide optimal and well-rounded educational experiences by using a curriculum free of local and national bias, faculty from all over the world, innovative teaching and learning enhanced by technology, and guided by universal principles and values.
One might then conclude that what Haywood (in Hayden , Thompson and Walker 2006, p171) refers to as the visionary ideal of international schools ‘offers students an experience that will help promote a world view based on cross-cultural understanding, leading toward a holistic view of world affairs and ultimately towards more peaceful collaboration between people and nations’.
It is then to the benefit of the world to provide such exceptional opportunities and experiences to students from the local or national community hosting the international school. In particular, making such opportunities available to exceptional local students (who one day may become local or national leaders in a position to influence) is a goal to strive for, both for society as well as the global community.
Internationally educated kids are privileged materially, socially and educationally due to the opportunities available to them and ‘the first-hand experiences of history, geography, religions, languages and cultures that other children might learn about only through books or the internet’ (Hayden, 2006, p52).
The great educational institutions of the future will not be the same as defined today.
There will be the ones, which will be effective in the midst of all drastic changes in society. There will be a new type of “knowledge”, wisdom: The ability to utilize knowledge with the goal to discover creative solutions to societal challenges.
I strongly believe that all Academic Institutions of the future will have to establish and support an institutional culture fostering innovation, respect for all individual differences and commitment to universal principal and values.
Faculty Leader in Educational institutions of the future
A Faculty Leader acts always on behalf of its students, builds trust, provides them with the most fulfilling, and challenging Holistic Meaningful and Harmonious educational experience.
All of his/her decisions are guided by the underlined principle of Innovation together with continuous learning that enhances the educational experience of every student.
Q: How can an institution become significant by influencing all members of its community: faculty, staff and students?
A: An Institution can become significant for all its members through its commitment to:
Developing Social Interest: According to Adler, social Interest is an aptitude, which deems one responsive to social situations (Adler, 1981). Social Interest may include interest beyond people (animals, environment, the entire universe). Social Interest is an extension of one’s self into the community.
Social Engagement: The ability to put interest into practice. Becoming aware of a social condition is the first step; developing an interest towards improving the social condition is the second; finding ways to engage in bettering the condition is a step further towards taking responsibility for part of the solution.
Social Commitment: The betterment of a situation or the improvement of a person’s life becomes a way of life for students as they develop a positive mindset towards improving as many aspects of society as possible
Q: Has ACS Athens provided educational programs to its students, in the past, to raise awareness for problems of less fortunate members of our community? What were the ultimate goals?
A: ACS Athens has provided a number of different programs over the years, to name a few:
The Wellness program, which takes place yearly in the school. Wellness Month at ACS Athens, adhering to the philosophy of providing a holistic education for students, aims at helping our school community make wellness a way of life every day. We welcome speakers who offer workshops, information and coping tools on such topics as stress management, substance abuse, oral hygiene, human trafficking, sex education, internet safety, anti-bullying and more. The month culminates in a “Celebrating Wellness” event involving everyone on campus.
The Village Project, began in 2007. 53 ACS Athens students arrived in Zacharo,a village in Peloponnese that had just experienced the 4th largest fire in the world to offer their help. Some ACS students taught the Lepreo kids how to test the safety of their drinking water; others visited a woman whose house burned down and donated more than 200 olive trees to be replanted. The biggest contribution however was the commitment to see the school improve its facilities so that they could establish a technology center where the local children and residents could learn computer skills. Since that very first journey, ACS students visit nearly twice a year and have engaged in a number of projects with the local youth to raise awareness for the prevention of fires and preservation of the forests.
The yearly visit to the Retirement home in Pyrgos: some students spend time with the senior citizens while the rest help them by buying groceries to add to the stock of food collected from our school wide food drive.
The IB Retreat to the Therapeutirion Lehainwn; where the physically and mentally “challenged” challenge our ability to accept the different and tap into our willingness to help those in need. The IB Diploma Course students visit this institution every year; they help the patients, in a number of different ways, by painting the walls of the institution, bringing them gifts, and spending time with them.
The Song and Dance Show, which takes place every spring, All members of our school work together for this Show; students, Faculty, Staff. Instead of money entrance is bought with a bag of groceries. All bags are collected and distributed to the Discounted Social Grocery stores of Aghia Paraskevi.
Q: Becoming a significant international educational institution: Does an international institution have a larger moral responsibility to help its members as well as the members of the local/global community? Why?
A: We are certain that internationally-minded schools offer such educational experiences, and thus we challenge ourselves by questioning whether local exceptional students, who cannot afford to pay tuition, should be able to receive scholarships or/and financial aid? Should international schools offer opportunities to students who are financially disadvantaged?
Mary Hayden (2006, pp39-40) further contends that international school students vary culturally, linguistically, in educational backgrounds and in reasons for attending international schools. Commonly however, students attend international schools because parents find it a valuable investment for the future. Yet Hayden quotes Lowe (2006, p40) who indicates that schools offering international qualifications are increasing as ‘a response by local elites to a stiffening of the local positional competition on the one hand and a globalization of that competition on the other … those who can afford to seek a new competitive edge by taking qualifications that they hope will give them a local advantage. At the same time … will give access to a labor market that is becoming increasingly globalized.’
Back to our original compounded question(s): is the accumulation of knowledge so expensive that it is available only to the privileged few of society? Does this selection of the few consider and optimally use society’s available brain power? If internationally minded education provides such advantages, should the ethical responsibility of a school and (perhaps) a country be to make it available to those who cannot afford it as well?
We believe such provision should become another ethical responsibility in internationally-minded schools. This then leads to the question of how such initiatives can be financed. Fundraising, collaboration with businesses and other organizations, developing programs to generate revenue and profit, keeping tuition affordable, soliciting resources from government agencies and investing in business endeavors are some ways to achieve this initiative successfully.
The skill and responsibility of school leadership should be geared to identifying ways to educate initially at least a handful of under-privileged local children. This type of leader, according to Hayden (2006, pp94-99), is unique in being adaptable, flexible in thought and open to different ways of working. These qualities allow leaders to respond effectively to the numerous demands they face. Depending on the responsibilities, a leader is both a manager and an administrator; one who is willing and able to work well with the local community and authorities as well as with the global community, promoting the international-minded values in any and all situations.
Q: How can the educational experience have a bigger impact on our students, when they try to «grasp» the realities of today’s world, even if these realities do not directly affect them?
A: First of all, the curriculum has to be different. All teaching methodologies should be redefined. A culture of freedom of expression should be established while respecting the community. Therefore, there has to be a balance between personal freedom and the respect of commonly accepted community principles and values.
The Combo Class in ACS Athens High school is a good example of such a different methodology applied in our curriculum.
10th Grade Combo Class is an integrated American Studies course, which combines American Literature and American History and Government.
Students engage in a variety of thematically based units that connect them to their learning. In history class, the students explore the concepts of absolute freedom, constitutional law, historical precedents, and the inner workings of the three branches of the U.S. government. In American Literature, students utilize methods of persuasion, use of figurative language, and application of structure
Other examples include activities that took place in the past, opportunities to engage students, faculty, and staff in an authentic and meaningful way:
The Tyros Water Project
In 2006, 9th grade students were engaged on a semester long Project including a fieldtrip to clean a beach in Tyros, Kynourias on “World Environmental Day”.
The Project was aimed to enhance content specific and related learning,helping students develop a higher level of self –esteem, self worth and efficacy while:
building integrity and ethos
teaching modesty and humility
nurturing empathy and acceptance for others
fostering a deep sense of civic responsibility for the well being of their community
The Israeli-Palestinian Project
In 2010, ACS Athens Students traveled to Israel and Palestine in order to create a mini documentary on the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, in cooperation with Newscoop, a media organization based in the US
Q: How can we raise awareness and empower our students to understand today’s global problems (poverty, famine, population displacement etc.) but also to equip them with the tools to find solutions to these problems? Could you give us examples? Are there any programs in the School capable of influencing the global community?
A: There is a new program in ACS Athens, a sustainable program for refugee children in Greece, which will take place this year. It is called:
“Make a Child Smile, Keep the Hope Alive”
It is a joint program of ACS Athens, AHEPA, and the Regional Authority of Attiki. 72 Children, 60 children (ages or 9-12) and 12 older children (ages 14-17) will be engaged in creative activities learning by playing, athletics (Soccer, tennis, climbing, etc.) art (drawing, painting, 3 dimension creations). They will learn Fundamental English or Greek and they will meet similar age students from ACS Athens.
It has to do with a global issue helping children and young refugees from several countries other than Greece. It involves all members of the institution (students, faculty, staff, administration, parents, alumni, and friends of ACS Athens). The program is addressing a holistic challenge for these young people with the goal to re-integrate them in society from the isolation of the refugee camps.
Resources will include:
Volunteers to run the program (students, faculty, staff, a nurse, the first day doctors) ACS Athens
Volunteers to identify the children for the program and make appropriate arrangements with authorities to transport them and accompany them to ACS from a refuge camp (AHEPA and Regional Authorities)
Shirts, Bottles and bags (ACS Athens)
Funding and Arrangement for Busses (Regional Authorities and/ or AHEPA)
Food – Lunches (all partners)
Educational Materials (ACS Athens)
Q: What is the ultimate goal? Who do you think will benefit more, by participating in programs like «Make a child smile, keep the hope alive»?
A: All parties will benefit. At the end, World Peace will be benefited. Uneducated children or children without «morfosis» are easily manipulated by any type of bias (religion, race, nationality, and gender). They, therefore, become peons and tools of dangerous movements with violence and conflict as a result.
Offering students and, in particular, less fortunate students, a high quality international minded educational experience, as well as, the opportunity to develop the foundations and become tomorrow ‘s leaders with ethos and responsibility will create greater foundations for the future. It will produce leaders who can give back to society by becoming the catalysts for making innovative educational experiences available to more and more students, free of national biases, religion fanaticism and race discrimination.
Q: What happens next? What is the aftermath for both our students and all other children who will participate in the program: «Make a child smile, keep the hope alive»? What is the next step? Do you think that this program could become life changing? How?
A: I hope we can motivate other educational institutions, or organizations, or governments to consider the program for adoption, taking into consideration their special conditions. Programs like this can prevent isolation and become the vehicle for re-integrating children and youth into society.
The accomplishment of the goal of the program would like to see inspiring decision makers to view morfosis not as an employment tool but the foundation for world peace and prosperity.
For a full text of the article quoted above please check the following reference:
Gialamas , S. and Pelonis, P. “Providing Exceptional Educational Experiences to Students with Financial Need: A modern challenge for International K-12 Schools”. International Schools Journal. Volume XXXlll, No. 1, November 2013
- ACS Athens Colloquium 2016, April 21-22
- Learning at ACS Athens – Student and Parent Perspectives