Dr. Pelonis addressing students and introducing ACS Athens guest Dr. Jane Goodall. (Photo: Courtesy of ACS Athens)
ATHENS – American Community Schools – ACS Athens, a PreK through 12 private school located in the Athens suburb of Halandri, is described in its Mission Statement as “a student-centered international school, embracing American educational philosophy, principles and values.”
Dr. Peggy Pelonis, who was raised in Los Angeles and is President of ACS, recently spoke with The National Herald about successfully navigating ACS through the pandemic, and about its focus on further developing partnerships “so that we can provide the students with opportunities and show them how to turn their knowledge and skills into action both in the world of work and the community.”
The COVID situation remains fluid, but ACS is well-positioned because it was already a pioneer in education technology, with well-trained and experienced teachers – that is the key – and a good technology infrastructure that makes it easy to pivot among online, in-person, and hybrid education.
Pelonis emphasized their current preparedness is a reflection of ACS’s longtime commitment to professional development. “We are ‘reflective practitioners – we look at what works, what doesn’t, what can be improved, and our teaching methodology is based on active research.”
The ultimate focus, however, is on the students. Along with critical thinking ability, “we are developing a mindset of conscious, responsible citizenship. Education is not just only about the brain, but about character.”
One key mindset at ACS, for its staff and students, is that “the world is constantly changing and evolving and there are constant surprises – like the past two years – and that what gets us though all shocks and adversity a strong sense of self with strong values,” Pelonis said.
“And the mindset for the kids,” she added, “has to be about how they position themselves in the world when they are younger in their immediate environment and when they are older in the broader environment, to improve life and living on the planet – and their own lives. We need to think about our neighbor, one another, as well as ourselves.”
That philosophy prepares the children not only to be good world citizens, but to also be successful in the world.
Pelonis notes that the world’s top organizations “are looking for critical thinking and problem solving skills” and the ability to connect with others “that will make an impact in that organization and beyond. Think about how difficult it is to collaborate among with people who are like-minded, and imagine when people are coming together from different cultures, nationalities, religions. With 64 nationalities in our School, this is one of our strengths – the children learn to work with one another and when they leave the School they feel comfortable pretty much anywhere in the world.”
That’s what’s needed in the world of work and business, where people “need these skill sets to be able to communicate, collaborate, think critically and look at the big picture” – a systems thinking mindset, “which means looking at both the big picture and how the different pieces of the world-puzzle come together.”
“We also want the children to know that whatever they do has consequences … and help them tap into a higher purpose.” That is accomplished through the curriculum and projects assigned to the students: planting gardens, caring for stray dogs, working with the homeless, refugees – “even, while they learn robotics, developing robots that are ethical,” she said.
ACS also believe in allowing kids to be creative. “Kids have the greatest ideas – once you plant something in their mind, they come up with their own solutions. You should see our elementary school kids come up with action plans.”
The partners ACS seeks include the Ikea Foundation – “the kids a co-designing the classroom of the future, and other organizations are helping develop our artificial intelligence lab,” Pelonis said.
Dr. Photini Pazartzis, an ACS Alumnus and Chair of the UN Human Rights Committee, is one of many prominent people who are invited to speak to the students. “Here you are a small UN with 64 different nationalities” she told them. Pelonis believes “it’s important to hear from people out there in the world, the movers and shakers, that our students are savvy and intelligent and ask great questions.”
ACS has a vibrant alumni community that keeps in touch with the School – many will gather this summer for their next alumni re-union. “If you look at our alumni population, they are so incredibly successful in all areas – business, law, medicine, technology – when they connect their kids to ACS, for our summer programs and our virtual Greek language classes, they all say they want the values that they learned to also be taught to their children because “these helped us stay balance and centered in our lives, but at the same time helped us be successful in our careers,” Pelonis noted.
She is very excited about ACS’s virtual Greek language and cultural classes. “Greek-Americans taking our classes – with live teachers at the other end – are so happy.”
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