Youth-to-Youth Educational and Social Integration Programs
A joint project between ACS Athens and the Home Project Organization
Since 2016, ACS Athens students, faculty and staff volunteers designed and implemented the Youth-to-Youth Educational and Social Integration Programs in collaboration with other non-governmental organizations with the following vision:
Fostering meaningful educational experiences and promoting social integration addressing the educational and social needs of unaccompanied minors in Athens through a student to student partnership learning model
The Youth-to-Youth Educational and Social Integration Programs since January 2017 are implemented in collaboration with The HOME Project Organization an NGO that provides holistic care and shelter to unaccompanied refugee minors. Currently, the Programs include the Part-time Youth-to-Youth Program, the Part-time Business to Youth and the Full-time Youth-to-Youth program. The Part-time Youth-to-Youth program, commenced in January 2017, and the Part-time Business to Youth commenced in January 2018 and both run on Saturdays from 9:30-4:00 p.m. involving 45 refugee minors and approximately 40 ACS Athens student volunteers. The Full-time program started in September 2018 and is offered to 18 unaccompanied minors who received the Shapiro Foundation scholarships through The HOME Project Organization.
In addition to the above aims the programs were designed to further educate ACS Athens students in developing as life-long learners, caring individuals and responsible global citizens.
Change of Perceptions: an ACS Athens student reflects
“What I have discovered is that the perspective I had for the refugees prior to the project was completely wrong. This perspective was entirely shaped by the media and was very much influenced by the current events that portrayed the refuges are very poor and uneducated people that came to Greece only as a gateway to a different life. What I was shocked, but was also pleased to discover was that the refugee children are no different than me, or any other of my peers. The only difference is that these children have first hand experience of real destruction; losing their parents and homes and having to come to a foreign country without anyone to help them. While this experience might haunt them fro their rest of their lives I was very happy to see them have fun and helping them adjust in this new environment.”
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 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 was 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.
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. 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, 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 exemplar collaborative learning community for all.
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 number of face-to-face contact with these students, the ‘Panagiotis Gialamas Learning Incubator’ space was build in the basement in the house these students 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 meeting 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 outside professionals as well as journalists from Scotland who inquired about our teaching methodology and our 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. This was the inception of the next phase, the Part-Time Business to Youth Program.
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. It is with pride that we report that these students are still successfully employed and some are promoted further providing evidence of the value of the vocational skills, professional etiquette, social skills and behaviors developed through these programs.
Sustainability and growth opportunities of both programs are also realized in this phased. 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. This marks the programs’ Sustainability and Growth phase. Specifically,
- The Part-Time Youth to Youth and Business to Youth programs continues 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 by sponsoring 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 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.
In order to prepare the Youth to Youth students for this new academic and social challenge, this phase began with a Student Orientation Day focusing on the academic and citizenship expectations, attendance processes, bell schedule, participation in club and athletic activities. A handbook with Youth to Youth student agreements was created with the input of the students.
September 6, 2018, a big day for 18 young unaccompanied minors. They are full-time students in a dream school for them and for many other students in Greece and 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.
Education, Social Equality, Hope and Collaboration was celebrated by all three parties. The details of the full-time Youth to Youth program were fully explained to all and the students continued their first day with their regular academic schedule designed for two cohorts.
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 will be offered for an 8-month cycle and will serve approximately 45 unaccompanied minors.
Part-time Youth-to-Youth Programs
The design of the program focused on providing to the unaccompanied minors an environment where students felt that they are connected and belong, that they are important and are cared for, that their wants and needs count and are addressed, that they are empowered and have courage to grow academically and socially.
Innovating Teaching Methodology:
The teaching methodology combines the expertise of ACS Athens faculty, called program instructors, with the support of ACS Athens student volunteers, who take on the role of teaching assistants. Throughout the program, ACS faculties serve mostly as facilitators with ACS Athens students working one to one with Home Project students to deliver the designed activities. The inclusion of ACS Athens students of similar age to refugee students enhances academic and social learning. In addition, it provides opportunities for friendships between ACS Athens and the Home Project students, thus assisting the latter to adjust to the local culture, to develop trust and faith in people, helping them to aspire to go forward and design a life path.
Inclusion and Collaboration of The HOME Project Organization and the professionals involved in the care of the unaccompanied minors is an important factor in the development of the program. In addition to their continuous presence every Saturday, there exists full alignment of the programs’ educational and social goals with the processes and practices as well with the socio-emotional support mechanisms in place in each of the homes run by the HOME Project. The continuous communication between ACS Athens and HOME Project professionals regarding the wellbeing and growth of the students is vital in ensuring the success of the intended outcomes of the programs.
The Part-time Business-to-Youth program was designed for those students who have attended the Youth-to-Youth program for at least one cycle and are 16 years old or older. This program aims to prepare our unaccompanied refugee minors for the work force. The curriculum is designed with a focus on enhancing language and professional skills as well as developing a professional etiquette based on input from local businesses. Specifically, English and Greek language classes put emphasis on reading comprehension, writing and oral skills using business specifics tests, writing emails, mock job interviews, and writing their own curriculum vitae. The computers class focuses on teaching Excel, Word and Power Point Presentations.
Full-time Youth-to-Youth program
The full-time program started in September 2018 and is offered to 18 unaccompanied minors, 4 girls and 14 boys, who received the Shapiro Foundation scholarships through The HOME Project Organization.
The program consists of two cohorts that follow courses designed specifically for the program. Full-time students depending on their academic skills have the choice to enroll in regular ACS Athens courses. Faculty follows the Youth-to-Youth teaching methodology implemented by ACS Athens faculty and students in the Part-time Youth-to-Youth Program.
Full-time Program Details:
The program is designed to provide and develop academic learning, social integration and wellness. It has in place a specially designed program for two cohorts, and a gradual inclusion model to the educational technology applied to ACS Athens course as well as inclusion to ACS Athens regular courses.
The two cohorts follow a Grade 9 curriculum adapted to their needs. The curriculum includes the following courses:
- English 9 with emphasis on reading and writing and oral skills
- English ESL 1&2 with emphasis on language development
- Integrated Math; year-long course
- Greek 9 with emphasis on writing and oral skills
- Natural science; semester course
- Sociology; year-long course
- History with emphasis on European History; year-long course
- Interdisciplinary activities which includes a music therapy class and visual arts; semester course
- Mindfulness class combined with Physical activities with focus on wellness; year-long course
All courses follow a combination of formative and summative assessments which include semester exams.
For the 2018-19 academic year, 6 students have been enrolled in ACS Athens courses: Biology 9, ESL 5, and computers. Based on semester exams and overall performance, 5 additional students will be enrolled in ACS Athens courses.
All students follow their Moodle® course management system as well as their progress on Skyward® student management system. Home Project professionals are also trained to follow both Moodle and Skyward in order to support and monitor the students in keeping up with their school work.
The full-time Youth-to-Youth program students are encouraged to participate in school clubs and athletic activities. Three students participate in school clubs and six students participate in athletic teams. Students take part in all school celebrations and assemblies and have developed friendships with ACS Athens students.
In order to best support the students, HOME Project psychologists regularly consult with the ACS Athens faculty involved in the program.
The Impact of the Programs
The impact on the unaccompanied minors
In its first three program cycles, the Youth-to-Youth Educational and Social Integration program with its two strands has served a total of 96 refugee students and has seen the participation of 124 ACS Athens volunteer students, and 60 faculty and staff. In the first three iterations of the program, the Youth-to-Youth program has gained a reputation among organizations involved in the refugee crisis in Greece, who have seen firsthand the impact of the program on the youth involved.
The impact on the unaccompanied minors is evident with the job placement of four Part-time Y2Y and B2Y students, now above the age of 18, in the Tourism industry since May 2018. The ability to design a future academic path, to desire the acquisition of educational qualifications and to think optimistically about the future is probably the most meaningful impact of the Y2Y Educational and Social Integration.
Almost all of the programs’ students applied for a position of the 18 Full-time -Y2Y- program scholarships offered by the Shapiro Foundation. This confirms the feeling of trust, hope and courage expressed frequently in their written and oral reflections. This positive life outlook was transferred to the homes of the children where the HOME Project professionals, fully aligned with the educational philosophy of the Y2Y Educational and Social Integration programs, also support, encourage and motivate the students to strive for academic, professional and social success.
The impact on ACS Athens students
124 ACS Athens students have been involved in the Youth-to-Youth Educational and Social Integration Programs since January 2017 serving more than120 unaccompanied minors residing in The HOME Project shelters. ACS Athens students reflected on their learning from the Youth-to-Youth Programs:
Elena and Fotis:
After this experience, I appreciate the things I have in my life and I feel thankful for meeting these people
I had the opportunity to come in contact with people with very different experiences and I realized how privileged I am.
Another student reflects on the change of perspective:
What I have discovered is that the perspective I had for the refugees prior to the project was completely wrong. This perspective was entirely shaped by the media and was very much influenced by the current events that portrayed the refuges are very poor and uneducated people that came to Greece only as a gateway to a different life. What I was shocked, but was also pleased to discover was that the refugee children are no different than me, or any other of my peers. The only difference is that these children have firsthand experience of real destruction; losing their parents and homes and having to come to a foreign country without anyone to help them. While this experience might haunt them for the rest of their lives I was very happy to see them have fun and helping them adjust in this new environment.
Events & Celebrations
The end of each cycle includes the Completion Ceremony. All participants receive a certificate depending on their role. Unaccompanied minors receive a Certificate of Completion in the Part-time Youth-to-Youth program, ACS Athens students receive a Certificate of Participation, and our faculty and staff receive a Certificate of Appreciation.
Career Day events:
- Visit to DANAOS Shipping Company, generously hosted by an ACS Athens parent and Board member.
- Visit to Hellenica Cosmetics SA, organized and delivered by Mr. Athanasios Frangogiannis-Matsas, ACS Athens graduate, class of 2017
Celebration of Friendship:
Secret Friends’ Day was first introduced in January 2019. 131 ACS Athens students, faculty and staff exchanged presents and cards with 127 unaccompanied minors living in 5 of the shelters of the HOME Project organization. The Celebrations of Friendship took place after the break, in two separate occasions in order to accommodate the big number of participants. On January 10, 2019, we celebrated Friendship with our Full-time Youth-to-Youth students and on Saturday, January 12, 2019, we celebrated Friendship with our Part-time Youth-to-Youth students.