ATHENS – In these challenging days, a school already ahead of its time has come into its own. American Community Schools (ACS Athens), located in the north Athens suburb of Aghia Paraskevi, is a student-centered K-12 international school, embracing American educational philosophy, principles, and values. The language of education is English, and there is also Greek language instruction.
Many of ACS's pre-pandemic initiatives such as hybrid learning – part in person, part online – and a philosophy that makes “students architects of their own learning” not only prepared staff and students for an immediate and effective response to the `surprises' of 2020, but they also give the school and students advantages in the post-COVID environment, creating the lifelong learners with ethos the World now demands.
ACS President Peggy Pelonis told The National Herald “we were prepared for a number of years” for `blended learning'. “Nobody knew the pandemic was coming, but we were moving in that direction.”
Emphasizing one of the main reasons ACS is one of Greece's top international schools – there are 1100 children of 65 nationalities, the preferred school of many embassies, including Israel's – Pelonis said “we continuously research best practices – our teachers and administrators are reflective practitioners and we are always looking ahead.”
ACS prides itself on being more a family than an institution, and providing students with a life experience rather than just a transcript to take with them – as a conversation with alumni of every era will reveal.
In addition to academic excellence, ACS pays close attention to a students' overall environment and inner needs, which Pelonis appreciates thanks to her counselling and psychology background. “Counselling is important because the social-emotional piece in education is central – in order for kids to thrive they need to feel they belong and are safe and loved. The school environment is the most important microcosm of their world after the family.”
Pelonis believes educators “have to reach out to each individual where they are, and you can create an optimal environment – where they feel safe and able to take risks without being judged and criticized – so they can grow to be the best that child can be.”
It is also valuable for children to learn that there are no failures, just learning experiences. “If you think of childhood and adolescence as a preparation for life, you want to let them make some of those mistakes, and they must be involved in the decision making in their lives.”
ACS's multi-nationality system, she said, “allows children to be comfortable wherever they go in the world – our alums tell me that – because they have to collaborate, work together, and not be afraid to take risks. They learn to communicate with all these different cultures – a good manager is someone who understands people and cultures,” and who explores the world and its opportunities with confidence and boldness.
“We are within Greece, but using American processes of education, that is the best combination any child can have,” she said.
“I know the School from many different perspectives,” said Pelonis, who began at ACS as a counsellor, rising to principal for middle and high school, then Dean and Vice President. After being raised and educated in Los Angeles, she arrived in Greece in the late 90s, raising a family of her own and developing a private practice which gradually became an important training center for psychologists.
ACS has prides itself in its accreditations – Middle States Assoc. of Colleges and Schools, International Baccalaureate Organization IBO, the College Board – and its origins. Originally established in 1946 as the British Army School, it became the Anglo-American school. During the 1954–55 school year it became chartered in the state of Delaware.
Over time ACS has evolved a holistic approach to education. “We want to develop heart, mind, and body, and as an educator the number one question I ask faculty,” Pelonis said, “is `what are the kinds of people we want to send out into the world – what kinds of habits of mind, heart, and behavior do we want them to have?' To do that, you must educate kids in many different ways, not just academically – you want to make them conscious citizens of the world, where they are looking around saying `this is my environment, this is my responsibility, this is how I can make living on the planet better in my area of the world.'”
ACS teaches kids to be successful, but successful with `ethos', “teaching them how to problem-solve in an ethical way,” Pelonis said. And ACS then recruits the teachers and administrators those end results demand.
The COVID experience may have opened existing gateways from America even wider, with non-Greeks telling their employers “I can do my job anywhere – I want to do it in Athens full time” and Greek-Americans able to do “six months Ameriki, six months Ellada.”
Greek-American families – more than 80% are now `mixed marriages' – have a great option for their kids in ACS.