When Local Heroes Get Action In Times Of Crisis

«I came here to tell you a story about what happens when some people coordinate and love deeply what they do, even in times that not everything is rosy, they can achieve something. I would like to end my talk with a favorite quote from Kazantzakis “It is my duty, and mine alone to save the earth if it is not saved, then I alone am to blame.»

Angelos Patsias, on May 2012 gave a TEDx talk in Thessaloniki, a city located in the north part of Greece where he presented the “School of Nature and Colors”. The project is an individual initiative moving beyond the standard educational model. The young teacher started implementing his ideas in 2010, when he was located by the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs as teacher and director of a primary school in a remote rural village in the prefecture of Rethimno in Crete. The village of Fourfouras, lying on the foot of Psiloritis Mountain, has a public school where four teachers cover the needs of six classes. Well, that is not uncommon in Greece in such places where the number of students is low to sustain one teacher per class.

Common place as well is that usually young educators staff the public schools in such areas. Years of experience gives the “luxury” to older professors to choose their preferred place of working and living. What is peculiar about this story though, is that at the time the 25-year-old teacher moved to Fourfouras, he grasped the chance to “break the walls between school and society” as the naming of his speech indicates.

The “School of Nature and Colors” is by all odds unique in the Greek educational landscape. According to its website, it is “a school where each and every student should discover his best self and would learn how to surpass it. A place where students can see their problems as opportunities to learn and feel the power of their choice.” Teachers move beyond the curriculum and do not rely merely on the school handbooks, support their pupils to experience a happy school and learn through creative methods.

Kids are welcomed to discover themselves and their tendencies, connect with the world outside the borders of their small school and specially the local community and experience the nature surrounding them. They attend dance, singing, photography and theater classes. In “The pirate island” the place, located in their kindergarten, kids devote time into brining alive imaginary characters by using simple row materials that they can find there. Robotics is another alternative class they attend, while they “win the boredom” by creating short-films. Later they share them through their online platform, social media pages and their own online educational channel named Fourfouras.tv. Just before their weekend starts, they attend the weekly school meeting where each person, teacher or student, proposes and votes equally about matters that concern their small school community.

At the same time Mr Patsias is a strong supporter of self-management. Kids literally dirty themselves with mud when they work on the vegetable garden, herb garden, green house and coop chicken house through which they raise funds for the needs of the school. He is also responsible for the creation of a network called “School Web of Mountains” bringing together mountainous schools on “an effort to know the place they live and the traditions that exist” across Greece.

Recently the young teachers of the school decided to throw away their chairs and replace them with colorful balls of pilates. The old-fashioned chairs and desks didn’t fit the bright ambience. Mr Patsias explains to their blog: “Contrary to the chairs, which hinder proper breathing, the proper blood circulation and burden the body with the wrong posture, the Swiss exercise balls or as known “balls for Pilates” keep the body alert, help concentration, while they train and help to easier breathing and better blood circulation. It is no coincidence that they use these balls in computer centres, in desk jobs, while they help especially children with autism.”

Judging by these actions, it comes as no surprise that the elementary school was included in the global list of alternative education schools, run by the Alternative Education Resource Organization. It is the first and only Greek primary school to be part of this list, along with other famous educational institutions like Summerhill, the Sands School and the Sudbury.

Mr Patsias continues till this day his admirable attempt to overpass the difficulties of the Greek educational system implementing a “guerilla” education as he calls it. In a recent interview in the Cretan news site Agonas Kritis he said: “This is an opportunity now, when the educational systems worldwide have been reviewed, to review our own educational system in order to make it viable and functional. Our State, for the sake of memoranda or else, is acting unreasonably. So we proceeded in “guerrilla” education. I know many people, and I imagine there will be many more, which in these conditions are walking ahead with their own way, and are shaping the people who will not make the mistakes of the past. Someday everything will be fine! “

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