Education

"My child is happier, calmer, and more involved in everyday life"

Mothers of children with special needs talk about  Athens Open Schools

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A significant portion of the 500 free Athens Partnership Open Schools activities, offered in 20 neighborhoods, are targeted to disconnected residents. Creative activities for children with autism and pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) include sports, painting, music and storytelling, aimed at children ages 7 to 14. At the 9th Special Primary School in Goudi, these activities are facilitated by special instructors from the Epilogi social enterprise.

We spoke with a newly formed group of 7 mothers from different neighborhoods in Athens, who bring their children each week to Goudi. Here are some words they shared over coffee in a neighboring café about their experiences.

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AP: What brought you to Athens Open Schools?

Katerina:  Before my experience at Athens Open Schools, I had not come in contact with other parents of children with autism, despite the fact that my child attends a special school. As a result, I usually felt lonely and marginalized associating with other parents. Through my son's involvement in this activity, I have now met parents who face the same daily challenges as I do and, most importantly, my child is happier, calmer, and more involved in everyday life.

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Anna: There are not many organizations that offer free activities for children with special needs, and it is difficult for parents to always pay for something that should be provided free of charge, such as Athens Open Schools. It is not easy for me to travel here from home, which is in another part of Athens, but honestly, this is of no importance, when I see my child enjoying himself, socializing and making new friends.

AP: What has your child gained from this activity?

Maralenda: My son is more tranquil, his obsessions and stereotypical behaviours have receded. He functions better within a team and has more appetite for play. As for myself, I also came out of my shell, because I had closed up a lot; I have met other moms and started socializing again.

Violetta: It is the third year that my child has taken part in this program and during that time he has opened up socially- he is trying new activities, such as exercise. I have also met other people and made new friends.

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Christina: Through this activity, my son now expresses himself more with me as well as other people. In addition, I have gained some free time for myself.

AP: What else has the Athens Open Schools program brought to the neighborhood?

Aspasia: Because the school remains open late, there is a guard and the courtyard is filled with people, it’s safer for all of us walk around the neighborhood.

To support these families through Open Schools and other AP public programs, please donate now.

 

Athens Partnership Shares Maker Learning Culture with Europe’s Digital Chiefs

The digital leaders of nine European cities created miniature encryption machines during an afternoon workshop this month at the Athens Municipal Maker Space, at a meeting convened by the Athens Chief Digital Officer.

The workshop was a central part of the European chapter of the Global City Chief Information Officers (CGCC) quarterly meeting and hosted by Athens CDO Konstantinos Champidis. It included representatives from Barcelona, the Hague, Helsinki, London, Milan, Tallinn, Vienna and Zurich. The challenge was aimed at building collaboration and problem-solving skills, while showcasing the value of the fab lab’s state-of-the-art technology.

CDOs at the Maker Space

European city digital leaders teamed up with the Athens Maker Space team to design, program and assemble the Eureka Box, drawing inspiration from the Enigma Machine which led to the development of the first electronic computer during World War II.

“We are trying to get digitalization, creation, innovation into the public school system and we are looking at different ways to do this,” said Marijn Franje, CIO of the Hague and founder of the European chapter of the CGCC. “I think this is a very interesting model to bring back home and try to copy it.”

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Athens CDO and meeting host, Konstantinos Champidis (right) discusses with TUC-TIE Lab Director Konstantinos Oungrinis (center), Athens Partnership Executive Director Alexandros Kambouroglou (left) how a multi-disciplinary, collaborative approach can enhance problem solving abilities.

The Maker Space, the first municipal space of its kind in Greece, is part of the Designed for Better Learning program, which has transformed the environment and educational experience in five percent of Athens public schools. The program employs participatory design, involving architects working hand-in-hand with students, teachers and parents.

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Testing the gears of the Eureka Box.

“Meeting here has been an opportunity for Athens to showcase its amazing journey of digital transformation over the last 3 years, and I was really impressed coming to the Maker Space to see what a world-class facility has been created and how open it is to the public,” said Theo Blackwell, London Chief Digital Officer.

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Clockwise from right: TUC-TIE Lab Director Konstantinos Oungrinis, Theo Blackwell, London CDO, and Marijn Franje, CIOr of the Hague

Launched by the Athens Partnership and run in partnership with the Technical University of Crete’s Transformable Intelligent Environments Lab, the Maker Space brings applied technology and design thinking to public school education. To date it has impacted the lives of 7,400 children and introduced innovative, interdisciplinary techniques to 167 teachers. The Maker Space was first launched in 2016 with support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and is now funded through the City’s budget. It is also included in the City’s 2018 Digital Roadmap, a blueprint guiding Athens’ digital strategy and aim to become a premiere digital city.

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Michael Hagler, representing the City of Vienna, works with Dionysia Daskalaki from the Maker Space team to assemble the box's circuits.

“Cities offer services and now technology is part of the public services delivered in Athens,” said Akis Georgakopoulos, a production and management engineer and member of the research team at the Maker Space. “Maker culture debunked the idea that technology is this exclusive thing some people use. Through this program we have opened tech up and made its use and application accessible to everyone.”

Open Schools Program Builds Bridges for Syrian Teenagers

Twice a week, 15 teenage refugees make their way to Athens’ historic neighborhood of Plaka to attend the Open Schools course English Through Comic Books” offered at the 1st Experimental High School.

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“We consciously targeted this age group [13-18] because teenagers are the most neglected group – the lost generation,” said Mara Vandorou, one of the four teachers of the course. “We had specific goals: to create an inviting, safe environment and develop a framework where, on specific days and times they had a commitment to honor and, of course, enhance language skills.” The course was also co-created and taught by Dimitra Adamopoulou, Sofia Berlis, Georgia Oikonomidou and Lida Tsene.

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“English Through Comic Books” is the result of a cooperation between the Accommodation and Social Services Scheme for Asylum Seekers, part of ESTIA, which is realized through the City of Athens’ Development and Destination Management Agency and Comicdom press, with the aim of cocreating a program addressed to young refugees from vastly different backgrounds, to help bridge their learning gaps as they learn to live in a new city.

The aim is to not only boost reading and comprehension skills, but also to improve emotional intelligence, offering a safe, welcoming environment outside of their homes in local Greek society.

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“Getting out and walking through Plaka’s streets to the school gives me such a warm feeling because the area is like being home for a bit,” says 17-year old Emad, as he describes the similarities between his former home in the the Souq Al-Hamidiya area of Damascus and the Athens neighborhood. Since arriving in Greece his only activities have been through the Open Schools program and meeting with his friends from the class once a week to play football.

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More than 14,000 refugees and asylum seekers currently live in the Attica region, with an additional 7,500 living in cities in the rest of Greece, as a part of the UN’s ESTIA housing program. The Open Schools program helps to remove barriers and offer opportunities for teenagers to interact with one another, share in new experiences and discover connections. In April 2018, Open Schools was recognized by the Council of Europe as a best practice for integration, while, along with other Athens Partnership initiatives such as the Athens Coordination Center for Migrant and Refugee Issues, it was also acknowledged in the City’s recognition as the “2018 European Capital of Innovation”.

Rami, a 16-year old participant in the course says, “Language is a tool and I have seen how it makes me richer. I now use it to interact with Greeks with more confidence.” He added that the lesson is as much about learning as it is about a chance to meet up with new friends and hang out in different parts of the city. When asked if there was anything he disliked about the class, he said: “The idea that it may not continue to be offered once this round of activities ends.”

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Children’s names have been changed to protect their privacy.

The Athens Open Schools program of the City of Athens operates with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation as founding donor, with the coordination of the Athens Partnership and the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation as Activities Donor, under the Vice Mayor for the Child.

The action is an initiative of the Accommodation and Social Services Scheme for Asylum Seekers, with the collaboration of Comicdom Press, and was implemented within the framework of Athens Open Schools.

The course was co-organized and taught by Dimitra Adamopoulou (Comicdom Press), Sophia Berli (EATA), Georgia Economou (EATA), Mara Vandorou (EATA) and Leda Tsene (Comicdom Press). The action was supported by the Interpreters of the Accommodation and Services Program for Asylum Seekers, Nabil Papadopoulos, Reem Jayusi, Elena Chatilari and Amgad Faik.

Enduring change in Athens Public schools

How Athens took ‘experiential learning’ and ‘participatory design’ from theory to practice

Two and a half years after the start of the Designed for Better Learning program at the City of Athens, how enduring is the change in culture and attitudes for the 4,000 children in the 24 pubic schools that were transformed through this Athens Partnership program? Are new students faced with a changed experience or is the impact of the DBL program gradually fading away?

5 City of Athens nursery homes that share a common courtyard were renovated through the Designed for Better Learning program.

5 City of Athens nursery homes that share a common courtyard were renovated through the Designed for Better Learning program.

Starting in the Spring of 2016, the Designed for Better Learning (DBL) program, supported through an exclusive grant by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), transformed 24 schools, equal to 5% of all public schools overseen by the City of Athens, using a groundbreaking approach that combines education with architecture and actively involves teachers, students and parents in the process and maintenance. The result was not just much better looking schools, but also a cultural shift which came from a significant increase in the sense of a personal connection and engagement with the school. The Athens Partnership coordinated the program for the City of Athens, while the Transformable Intelligent Environments Lab (TUC TIE Lab) of the Technical University of Crete was responsible for the scientific planning and implementation.

Stelios Vassilakis, Director of Programs & Strategic Initiatives, Lenia Vlavianou, Group Director of Communications, Alexia Vasilikou, Communications Officer and Aristi Stathakopoulou, Program Officer at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, met with the principals of all the kindergartens, who shared their first-hand experience of the changes brought about by Designed for Better Learning.

Stelios Vassilakis, Director of Programs & Strategic Initiatives, Lenia Vlavianou, Group Director of Communications, Alexia Vasilikou, Communications Officer and Aristi Stathakopoulou, Program Officer at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, met with the principals of all the kindergartens, who shared their first-hand experience of the changes brought about by Designed for Better Learning.

Popi Baskeki, the Principal of one of the preschools, speaks enthusiastically about the change that happened through the Designed for Better Learning program.

Popi Baskeki, the Principal of one of the preschools, speaks enthusiastically about the change that happened through the Designed for Better Learning program.

Last July, we welcomed the Stavros Niarchos Foundation for a visit to the pre-schools that were revamped using this innovative method. The changes included a redesigned common courtyard for all, upgraded internal spaces, as well as new educational games and constructions for the 500 children and 60 educators at the 5 Nursery Schools of the Municipality of Athens, at Christodoulakio, on Kifissias Avenue. After a tour, we sat down with the same team of educators who took part in planning the changes at the very start of the program.

The nursery school principals recalled the planning stage of the program, when DBL architects and researchers sat together with educators to discuss how they envisioned a more functional, education friendly school environment. The greatest challenge to overcome for the 5 nursery schools was that they were housed in adjacent buildings that shared a common school yard that was separated by gates, fences and walls. These boundaries divided up the space and also created visual barriers between the educators and the children.

Vaso Leneti, principal of one of the nursery schools (left) with Marianthi Liapi, DBL project manager from the TUC TIE Lab of the Technical University of Crete.

Vaso Leneti, principal of one of the nursery schools (left) with Marianthi Liapi, DBL project manager from the TUC TIE Lab of the Technical University of Crete.

“When we first heard about the program, we were very enthusiastic and hardly believed all these changes were possible! The project team, architects and researchers, were asking us ‘what are your wishes and dreams for this school?’” says Popi Basdeki, the Principal at one of the five nursery schools.

The first stage of Designed for Better Learning focused on large-scale architectural interventions: unifying the separated playground, creating more efficient interior layouts, upgrading facilities such as the bathrooms. And change did not stop here: through the “Educational Pla(y)ces” structures, the DBL team worked with students and teachers in each of the schools to enrich learning spaces and incorporate educational equipment.

One of the new educational tools designed by the DBL team together with educators, created at the City of Athens Maker Space, also a part of the DBL program.

One of the new educational tools designed by the DBL team together with educators, created at the City of Athens Maker Space, also a part of the DBL program.

“Through this program, we came to put to use concepts that we previously talked about theoretically, like ‘experiential learning’ and ‘participatory design’, but could never really enforce in our environment”, says Maria Vlachou, Principal of the Christodoulakio complex. The testimonials make it clear that the transformation had a deep impact on school culture.

“The combination of top-down and bottom-up changes is the unique element of this approach”, said Marianthi Liapi, Project manager of the DBL program. “We found the common ground between the needs and visions of educators and the school community, bringing innovation together with tailor-made solutions that served that specific community at a world-class standard.”

Children now play in a stimulating environment that supports development and allows them to take more risks while exploring their environment.

Children now play in a stimulating environment that supports development and allows them to take more risks while exploring their environment.

The tour showed first-hand what data already indicated to us – which is that 2.5 years later the transformation has been maintained and supported by these schools. Although construction crews transformed the architectural environment, it was the DBL methodology which went below the surface and engaged teachers, parents and the children in a way that made them stakeholders and guardians.

A Maker Space for Athens schoolchildren to explore 21 century technology

How do you program a robot battle? How can you use a 3D printer to design and produce a chess piece or a key ring? What is it like to visit a space station through the use of virtual reality? These and many more digital applications are now available in the new City of Athens’ Maker Space - free for students of all ages in Athens to explore. The Maker Space is the first municipal fabrication lab in Greece, equipped with machinery and digital tools for designing, printing, and manufacturing (it includes laser cutters, 3D printers, CNC router, vinyl cutter, etc.).

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Through new educational programs, this year more than 1150 children in Athens have already explored the Maker Space, learning about applied digital technologies through hands-on experiments. More than 220 teachers have also taken part in workshops – designed to help them create new tools to enhance school learning and introduce creative play in the classroom.

“In spite of all its technological wonder, the Maker Space is not a just a showroom where you can admire technological applications. Children and adults are invited here to become creators, taking digital technology into their own hands,” says Alexandros Kambouroglou, Executive Director of the Athens Partnership, who coordinate the Maker Space program.

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The Maker Space is an integral part of the City of Athens’ “Designed for Better Learning” program, which has already upgraded 24 public schools in Athens through an innovative educational approach. “Designed for Better Learning” - funded by an exclusive grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation - is being implemented in collaboration with the Transformable Intelligent Environments Lab of the Technical University of Crete and coordinated by the Athens Partnership.

Mr. Kambouroglou continues, “In Maker Space, children can see, for example, how simple objects are designed and produced. Their curiosity is naturally sparked as children begin to wonder ‘what can I dream up and construct next?’ Through the Maker Space, children are getting a first-hand experience of what it is to be an inventor in the 21st century.”

The Maker Space is part of the third implementation phase of the “Designed for Better Learning” educational program. In its first two phases, architectural interventions were made in 24 schools in the municipality of Athens, and 87 "Educational Pla(y)ces" - educational projects enriching the learning tools and the school environment - were added with the active participation of pupils and teachers.