History of Athens College
Athens College was established in the mid 1920’s by two groups of progressively minded philanthropists, one in Greece and one in the United States of America. They formed two distinct but interlinked organizations- “The Hellenic American Educational Foundation (HAEF)” in Greece, represented by the Board of Directors and “The Trustees of Athens College in Greece,” in the state of New York, know as The Board of Trustees. The purpose of Athens College is to provide a superior education for Greek boys and girls, without regard to their social or economic status. Moreover, the academic program of the college was designed from the beginning to blend the best of Hellenic and American educational practice. By tradition, the President and CEO is an American. All students and about three-quarters of the faculty are Greek, many of them educated in whole or part in the US.
Since 1925, Athens College has grown from a small primary-secondary school for boys to a large and complex non-profit organization. It operates four co-educational schools for children ages 6-19 (two elementary, one middle school, one upper school). Serving over 3,000 students and employing 265 full-time faculty, these together comprise the largest independent school in Europe. Approximately 95% of Athens College graduates attend university. Roughly half of these go abroad, most to universities of the first rank in the US or the UK. In addition, the school operates several auxiliary educational programs including the “Free Studies” Program, the Adult Education Program and a language institute.
Athens College has played a unique and influential role in the history of Greece in this century. With the possible exception of Harvard in its earliest days, there is no good “single institution” analogy in American education or philanthropy. Not only has Athens College set the standard for progressive education for an entire region but it has educated most of the intellectual, economic, and political (all parties) elite of Greece for nearly four generations. Alumni living outside the country are also typically at the top of their respective professions. Moreover, the College’s need-blind admissions policy and scholarship program are unique in Greece and very unusual in Europe. Athens College operates in an environment which, at times in its history, has been highly antagonistic to private education. Even so, it has been and remains the leading educational institution in Greece.
Even though Greek is the primary language of instruction, Athens College is by special law permitted to teach in English. As a result, students are effectively bilingual by the time they graduate. Approximately 95% of the graduates of Athens College go on to university, with over half of these going abroad. Of those who are admitted to universities abroad, about 40% enter universities in the US and another 50% enter universities in the UK; many of which, in both countries, are in the top tier. On the completion of their studies, many students stay on to complete post-graduate degrees, while some of those who complete their undergraduate courses in Greece leave to pursue post-graduate studies abroad, usually in the US or the UK. About three quarters of those who study abroad return to Greece to enter the academic or business sector - both private and public.
During the course of its 70 year history, the school has been required to adjust to changing educational legislation in Greece and to find new ways of providing its student body with the broad range of studies and activities which characterizes the school’s educational offering. For example, one solution to limitations imposed on the schools’ curricula in the mid-1980’s was the establishment of the “free studies” (FSP) program which operates after school and offers intensive French and German plus a wide range of athletic and arts activities. In addition, the FSP prepares internal and external students for entrance exams to universities in the UK via “A” and “O” level GCE courses. The International Baccalaureate Program, established at the start of the 1996-97 school year - when Greek legislation recognized the IB diploma as “equivalent” to the Greek high school diploma - provides another option for our students.
Establishment of the IB is the first step toward a comprehensive reform of the upper and middle school curricula as recommended in the College’s strategic plan. A collaboration with the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) is the second.
Athens College has also operated an evening adult education program (AEP) since the mid 80’s with a large student body, around 2,000 enrolled, from the wider Greek community. Through its courses in computer science and business, the AEP plays an important role in meeting an urgent need for professional training in Greece. This program of continuing education is consistent with the school's tradition of service to the larger community of Athens and beyond. In addition, closely linked with this proposal to establish a state-of-the-art information network is a long-standing plan to provide distant learning to Greeks who cannot attend classes on campus and eventually to people and institutions in other regions of Greece and surrounding countries.
For additional information on Athens College, please visit the school's Website.
Athens College - An Historical Perspective
The Founding Committee of Athens College was organized in 1924 in New York City by Americans, Greeks, and Greeks of the Hellenic Diaspora. The purpose of the Athens College, as it was then and is still known, was to provide superior education for Greek children, only boys initially, without regard to their social or economic status.
Athens College, which was incorporated under both Greek and American law in 1925 and chartered by the Board of Regents of the State University of New York in 1926, is a not for profit, tax exempt organization. The school has two Boards: a Board of Trustees in the United States and a Board of Directors in Greece. The President of the school is, as prescribed in the by-laws, an American.
The Board of Trustees in the U.S. participate equally with the Board of Directors in Greece in setting strategic direction and in making major strategic decisions. In addition, the Board of Trustees manage the endowment, coordinate U.S. development, recruit and compensate the American President and administer many U.S.-based programs including faculty development and fundraising. The Board of Directors in Greece manage the day to day operations of the School, and its affiliated programs. Both Boards work closely with the President.
The Early Years
Athens College officially opened its doors in October 1925 with only a handful of students in attendance. Those few students were attracted by a public announcement which read:
"Athens College aims to follow the standard educational systems and
also to introduce those modern English and American methods of
education which can best be adapted to the history, psychology and
national needs of the country, and are preparatory for the universities
of Greece, England or America."
For two days there was no response at all. Not one candidate ventured to enroll. Then the first student, Elias N. Eliacos, came forth. Fourteen students followed him, and Athens College began. The school initially occupied a small one room house in the heart of Athens before moving to its present campus in 1928.
The beginning was spartan, to say the least. The small rented house on 18 Androu Street was in the classic Venetian-Byzantine style with heavy stone masonry and shuttered, arched windows. There was no furniture. The first desks, chairs, and blackboards were all borrowed. The single boarding student was put up in a nearby hotel. Part of a wall was knocked out so that students could have room for sports and other activities. It was a humble beginning, the sort that is familiar to so many American preparatory schools that started out with the same desire to create an educational alternative.
Then, by November 12, 1928, the first classes were held on the present campus -35 acres of land in the suburban town of Psychico donated to the school by its earliest benefactors, Emmanuel Benaki and Stephanos Delta. By 1931, the school had grown to 351 students and a faculty of 44. The average age of the teachers was thirty. Nine were Americans.
Almost immediately, they were joined by other Americans. One was Strond Reed, who was an instructor at Robert College in Constantinople (now Istanbul) and was in Athens looking to broaden his horizons. Reed was chosen by the founding committee as the new school's first headmaster and promptly recruited two of his colleagues -- Homer Woodhull Davis and his wife, Marjorie, as instructors. In 1932, Davis became president of Athens College and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1960. His name is still revered as a cornerstone of the school that has grown into one of the world's most unique educational ventures.
Crisis and Survival
At 6:45 on the morning of October 28, 1940, air raid sirens sounded. Teachers and the students rushed to the basement of Benaki Hall, assuming it was just another air raid drill. But the Second World War had began in earnest. Mussolini's troops were attacking Greece through Albania. The Greeks stood and fought back, even advancing into enemy territory. But they did not stand much of a chance when, six months later, Hitler came to the rescue of his ally. Starvation and horrible living conditions prevailed throughout Athens, and the young were no exception to hunger. Dead lay in the streets. Among them were young Athens College graduates who had joined the resistance on the mountains of Greece by enlisting as part of British Force 133. At Athens College itself, beneath a hanging swastika, the Nazis burned the school's archives, and destroyed the library.
Throughout the fearful occupation of Athens and all its savage scenes, a dedicated staff of Athens College operated in a dilapidated old building and managed to keep a flicker of learning alive. The school was moved to a home in the middle of Athens and to a rented house in Psychico and somehow managed to go on, risking everything. When Homer Davis returned to Greece in the fall of 1944, he immediately set to work to reopen Athens College.
A year later, on November 12, 1945, Athens College returned to its campus in Psychico and, despite the hardships of the time-- the Greek Civil War was about to start again-- the enrollment increased to 594 students, with 170 younger ones remaining in the Athens wartime house as a lower school. It was a belt-tightening period. Benaki Hall had been left in a shambles, and there was a considerable task ahead to rebuild and re-equip the school.
The students were without money, and the U.S. trustees agreed with Homer Davis that the entire income from the endowment, some $25,000, would be used for scholarships. Every student, from the youngest to the seniors, understood the difficulties and volunteered to forsake lunches from time to time so the school could remain open.
The U.S. people have been instrumental in seeing Athens College through its early hardships. The library, which was once occupied by the Nazis, now bears the USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) insignia, so its visitors will know that through the generosity of the American people, this library was resurrected.
During the School's long and fascinating history it endured many hardships - wars, occupation, poverty - but its spirit, and the spirit of its students, faculty and staff endured. With their perseverance, and their strength, the College became the leading educational institution in Greece, rich in history and tradition.