History of the Programs
In 2015, Greece, among other European Countries, was in the middle of a humanitarian crisis due to population displacement as a result of civil wars in countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of people left their homes seeking a better life in other places of the world. Greece, because of its geopolitical position and its proximity to these countries and to central Europe, accepted a great number of the refugee population.
From the very beginning of the refugee crisis in 2015, ACS Athens became actively involved.
The Discovery Phase begins with Mr. Steven Medeiros and Dr. Peggy Pelonis
The first phase of the programs involved Middle school students and Faculty, under the leadership of Mr. Steve Medeiros and Dr. Peggy Pelonis, engaging in a quest to define Home and to raise awareness about the refugee crisis during the UN day celebrations. Middle school students and the entire ACS Athens community were mobilized there on to visit refugee camps in Chios Island and Piraeus, raise awareness, to provide support and assistance to the refugees by donating food and clothing which defined the Discovery phase.
15 Refugee Minors are Invited to Participate in ACS Athens Summer Camp
Following the Discovery phase, ACS Athens in collaboration with Metadrasis, a nongovernmental organization, identified 15 eligible unaccompanied minors and invited them to participate in the 2016 ACS Athens- Summer Camp program. Aiming to promote social inclusion, ACS Athens students, faculty and staff were fully engaged in supporting the visiting students to feel part of the community and to participate in all activities.
The Inclusion Phase -15 Refugee Minors Receive Full-Time Scholarships to ACS Athens
Four (4) of the fifteen (15) students who attended the ACS Athens-Summer Camp program, were selected to receive full-time scholarships by ACS Athens directly and become full time ACS Athens students during the 2016-17 academic year.
This marks the beginning of the Inclusion phase. These 4 students were guided to choose their best fit academic program and were supported socially by ACS Athens students, counselors, faculty and administrators.
The Youth to Youth Program is Born
Concurrently, in the Fall of 2016, ACS Athens started a new collaboration with the HOME Project Organization, a unifying initiative set up to address the needs of refugees and refugee children in particular who have arrived in Greece alone. ACS Athens students accompanied by Dr. Stefanos Gialamas, and a few administrators and faculty visited the homes under the care of the organization in order to meet the unaccompanied minors and to identify their educational and social needs. This was the inception phase of the Youth to Youth Program.
The third phase of our Youth to Youth Educational and Social Integration Programs begins with the creation of the Part-Time-Youth-to-Youth program in collaboration with the HOME Project organization.
A 9- week program designed to run on Saturdays from 10 am to 3:30 pm administered by ACS Athens student, faculty and staff volunteers, offering English and Greek Language courses, Art, Drama and Athletic activities to 18 male unaccompanied minors. The selection and admission process engaged various ACS Athens parents in the medical profession in order to identify possible needs for medical support. The support of the program by ACS Athens faculty and students was phenomenal. More than 60 students and faculty worked every Saturday voluntarily and succeeded in creating an exemplary collaborative learning community for all.
The "Panagiotis Gialamas Learning Incubator" and the Business-to-Youth Program
The successful outcomes of the first cycle of the Part-Time Youth to Youth Program shared by word of mouth to other unaccompanied minors living in the same home increased the demand for the program which, in the second cycle served 28 students from the HOME Project. This phase was marked by a clear emphasis on advancing their education and planning future academic and professional paths. In an effort to increase the frequency of face-to-face contact with these students, the ‘Panagiotis Gialamas Learning Incubator’ space was created in the Home Project’s refugee shelter home through a donation by Dr. Stefanos Gialamas in the name of his father. The Learning incubator space provided a fully equipped room supported with the necessary technological infrastructure that would allow our ACS Athens Faculty and students to have online class meetings with the HOME Project students.
This phase was also marked by an increased awareness of the outcomes of the Part-Time Youth to Youth program in the ACS Athens community at large as well as among organizations and individuals working to support those affected with the current refugee crisis. The program was observed by many professionals as well as international journalists, especially from Scotland, who inquired about our teaching methodology and social integration approach.
The culminating event of this cycle was the visit to DANAOS Shipping Company, generously hosted by an ACS Athens parent and Board member, which set the beginning of our Career Day and the inception of the Business to Youth program. Seeking to provide vocational skills and job opportunities for those students approaching adulthood, Dr. Stefanos Gialamas, Ms. Julia Tokatlidou and Ms. Sophia Kouvelaki convened with a small group of ACS Athens parents and two external business owners in effort to determine the vocational skills required for employment in various industries with emphasis on the tourism industry.
Everything Comes Together. The Youth to Youth Project Continues to Grow and Expand Successfully and Sustainably
The fourth phase of our programs was marked by expansion both in student numbers and variety in curriculum. 42 students from the HOME Project participated either in the Youth to Youth strand and the Business to Youth Career strand of the program (B2Y) introduced in this phase aiming to build skills specific to the workforce. ACS Athens students and faculty continued to work voluntarily every Saturday with paramount enthusiasm and commitment. The feedback from all professionals, personnel and administrators from the HOME Project regarding social inclusion, wellness and positive life choices noted a remarkable transformation in the participants of the Youth to Youth and Business to Youth programs. This cycle ended with a Career Day at Hellenica Cosmetics SA, organized and delivered by Mr. Athanasios Frangogiannis-Matsas, ACS Athens graduate, class of 2017.
Success was realized in this phase. Four of our Youth to Youth and Business to Youth students, with the assistance of the HOME Project Organization, found employment in the Hotel industry. At the time of this writing, some of these students are still employed and some have even been promoted, providing evidence of the value of the vocational skills, professional etiquette and social skills and behaviors developed through these programs.
Sustainability and growth opportunities of both programs are also realized in this phase. Through the HOME Project Organization, two international organizations with extensive philanthropic contributions, the IKEA Foundation and the Shapiro foundation, visited ACS Athens during the April, 2018 Spring Break, in order to learn more about our Youth to Youth Educational and Social Inclusion Programs. ACS Athens students, parents, faculty, administrators together with the students and professionals from the HOME Project Organization presented the aims, philosophy and the outcomes of the programs to each organization. Both presentations were successful in conveying the significance of our programs to promote education and social inclusion for the unaccompanied minors and gained the financial support of both organizations.
- The Part-Time Youth to Youth and Business to Youth programs continue through the 2018-19 academic year with the financial support of the IKEA Foundation.
- The comprehensive benefits of the Part-Time Program with the Y2Y and B2Y strands inspired Mr. Edward Shapiro to sponsor the full-time Y2Y educational and social inclusion program, a unique private-sector educational program world-wide. The full time program offers the full range of the 9th grade ACS Athens curriculum to the full-time Y2Y students using the teaching model successfully applied in the part-time program. While English, Greek language, Social Studies, Applied Science and Math classes will be tailored to the needs of the Y2Y students, all electives will be inclusive with the rest of the ACS Athens student body.
The Full-time Youth to Youth Program Receives World-Wide Acknowledgement
The selection and admissions process to the full-time Youth to Youth programs begins late June, 2018 and is completed on July 15, 2018. A team of ACS Athens professionals from the Testing center, the Optimal Learning Program, counselors, faculty, administrators and an external medical doctor, led by Ms. Christiana Perakis, Director of the Testing Center, engaged in a thorough process of assessments, evaluations and personal interviews in order to select the 18 students who best fit our ACS Athens student profile and the aims of our Youth to Youth Educational and Social Inclusion programs.
The Full-time Youth to Youth program receives world-wide acknowledgement in the media as well as the local TV news. ACS Athens president, Dr. Stefanos Gialamas, shares this vision and invites other schools to engage in similar programs.
A Celebration of Education, Social Equality, Hope, and Collaboration
September 6, 2018 - a big day for 18 young unaccompanied minors. They are full-time students in one of the best international schools in the world. A big day for the three collaborating organizations, the Shapiro Foundation, the HOME Project Organization and ACS Athens that started with an inclusive assembly honored by the presence of Mrs. Barbara Shapiro, Mr. Ed Shapiro, Mrs. Maureen Alma Sigliano, HOME project Board member, Ms. Sophia Kouvelaki, Director of the HOME Project Organization, Dr. Stefanos Gialamas, president of ACS Athens, Dr. Peggy Pelonis, Dean of Academic and Student Affairs, ACS Athens faculty and staff and psychologists and other professionals from the HOME Project.
Student Orientation Day is created to prepare the Youth to Youth students for this new academic and social challenge. The purpose is to present them with the academic and citizenship expectations of their school, as well as attendance processes, bell schedule, and participation in club and athletic activities. A handbook with Youth to Youth student agreements was created with the input of the students.
A process of gradual inclusion to regular ACS Athens courses, based on progress and further assessments is in place in order to ensure that the Youth to Youth students receive a holistic and meaningful education.
A continuous feedback and support mechanism is established between the HOME Project and ACS Athens which includes training sessions for the HOME Project professional team and psychological support workshops for the ACS Athens faculty.
November 2018 – June 2019
The Part-time Youth to Youth Programs continue with the cycle expanding to 8-months with the support of the IKEA Foundation. 58 unaccompanied youth participated in the program with approximately 40 ACS Athens student volunteers. The program is now deeply rooted into the school’s culture and academic programs.
September 2019- June 2021
The Y2Y program survives the loss of its founder, Dr. Stefanos Gialamas, and the global Covid-19 pandemic. The part - time program continues online as needed despite connectivity challenges. The full-time program currently has seven students towards graduation. Four of those, hopefully, will graduate next academic year 2021/2022.