Ms. Konstantinou, Director of Institutional Communications, referred to the challenges the new year brings to the American Farm School in an interview with Citymag magazine. She underlined that the institution looks into the future with confidence, presented a historical timeline of its greatest moments, stressed the School’s extroversion in the last decade, revealed what Thessaloniki can expect from the School in 2021 and analyzed the characteristics which set it apart from other educational institutions.
We’d love 2021 to be like the view from Ms. Konstantinou’s cozy and welcoming office at the American Farm School: located on the attic of Princeton Hall, it offers views of east Thessaloniki, from Angelochori to Kalamaria and Mount Olympus at the end of the Thermaic Gulf. This is how we envision the new year: bright and with open horizons.
With a history of 116 years the American Farm School has had an amazing journey. What are its most defining moments?
It all started in 1904, when, after 30 years of service in the Balkans, enlightened American educator Dr. John Henry House and his wife, Susan Adeline, founded the American Farm School on the outskirts of Thessaloniki. Dr. House was known as being a “practical idealist,” dedicated to “educating the whole individual: the head, the hands, the heart.” Thus, he founded a school that would not only provide specialized agricultural education, but education in general.
All these 116 years, the School has been a pioneer and innovator on many educational issues. But it was also a pioneer on experimentation, research, cultivation and production. Indicatively, I’ll refer to the first milk pasteurizer in Greece, the experimental unit for the production of biogas from organic waste, the transplantation of embryos in dairy cows, the production of eggs with omega-3 fats, the cultivation of rapeseed for biofuel production and so much more.
In the last decade there has been an "explosive" growth concerning the educational levels you provide as well as the institution’s extroversion. What exactly happened and why were these steps necessary?
Over the past decade and under the leadership of President Dr. Panos Kanellis the institution has adopted an outreach strategy for both the Greek and international community.
In this context, the important decision was made to gradually add all the educational levels. Initially, the Pre-K and the Kindergarten were created, followed by the opening of the Elementaty School, the Haseotes Middle School, the Junior College and the Perrotis College School of Graduate Studies.
AFS and Perrotis College now provide all levels of education; a development which was almost imperative, as the goal of the School is to always adapt to the educational needs of each period in time, while remaining faithful to its roots and the long tradition of experiential learning. A difficult challenge, which we overcame with teamwork, faith and dedication.
Where does the institution stand today? How much did the pandemic affect the operation of the School?
As with the rest of the world, the pandemic caused at least one arrhythmia in the operation of the School. The schools followed the instructions of the Ministry of Education and the students started distance-learning. The teachers were ready for this development, as our colleagues in the IT Department had activated - before the pandemic broke out - all the necessary technological tools and had trained the faculty and staff. Therefore, in terms of the educational process, everything went smoothly, based on detailed planning, as is always the case at a large and renowned educational institution. Fortunately, the pandemic did not cause problems at the Educational Farm of the School, where production continued without interruptions.
Today, the institution, having incorporated all levels of education, is reorganizing and carefully planning its next steps. It listens to the needs of Greek society and plans to take initiatives and actions to meet them, as it has always done in the past.
What can the city of Thessaloniki expect from AFS in 2021 and in the future?
Leaving behind us the pandemic, we are focusing on the future. 2021 will be a year of intense extroversion and the starting point for the expansion of collaborations and research programs. The course of the School in time and its proven flexibility and adaptability guarantee that it will remain at the forefront of research and knowledge and that it will meet all modern challenges. We will continue and expand our work, looking into the future with greater confidence, always promoting educational and research activities with the deep belief that real education transforms people, economies, and countries.
What is the role of the School in issues related to green development, sustainability and the circular economy?
As an institution, we recognize that environmental science is a multifaceted field of research, focusing on the interactions between soil, water, air in the biosphere and its living organisms, studying the dynamic, interdependent relationships that have developed between these four parameters. In fact, I will refer to the saying of the well-known German ecologist Petra Kelly, who had said that "if there is a future, it will be green".
The concepts of "climate change", "cyclical economy", "sustainability", "environmental protection" and "sustainable development" have been incorporated into all levels of education at the American Farm School and Perrotis College. The adoption of the European Green Agreement, which is the "roadmap" for the sustainability of the European Union economy, is directing more and more people to work on general environmental issues. In fact, Perrotis College, wanting to further enhance its environmental education footprint and taking advantage of its state-of-the-art facilities, offers a B.Sc in Environmental Science as of the current academic year.
You are an institution with many particularities. You provide training, but you also maintain an educational and productive farm. Are you planning to expand your product range?
The School’s diversified education and research farm is a living laboratory for students of all ages. Since the School’s founding, the Farm has provided students with hands-on experiences that amplify academic learning, bridge disciplines, and spark science-driven innovation. It’s worth mentioning that all proceeds from product sales support the institution’s Scholarship Program.
But the institution is restless. We do not like to stand still. Therefore, we are already working on new innovative products of excellent quality. The School has always led and will continue to lead the way on many levels.
What makes the American Farm School different from other educational institutions?
What sets us apart is the extended and holistic educational program offered in an excellent educational environment. This stable and evolving framework ensures an upgraded knowledge experience and contributes to the development of our graduates personalities in more ways than one.
For 116 years, the School has been a destination and a "journey" for our students and graduates. To this day, we respect our founder’s vision and adapt it to the modern educational reality.