Avenor hosts Romania’s first-ever regional round of the Oxford Schools’ Debate Competition

On February 10th, Avenor hosted the inaugural regional round of the prestigious Oxford Schools’ Debate Competition in Romania, bringing together 56 students from 8 schools. This stage required participants to engage in two British Parliamentary-style debates, with the top 3 teams advancing to the final held at the University of Oxford in March.

During the event, two Oxford students, our guests for a few days, provided explanations on the rules, served as judges, and closely observed the competitors.

Special congratulations to the Avenor team comprised of Ioana and Sofia, students in  Grades 9 and 10, who will represent Avenor in the final stage of the Oxford competition.

Louisa Dăscălescu, teacher of History, and coordinator of the Avenor Debate Club was the driving force behind and organiser of this project, tailored to provide the Avenor Debate team with the opportunity to participate in a significant international competition, pushing their limits and preparing them for the future.

In the interview below, Louisa shares insights on what participating in such competitions means for our high school students.

 

What was your motivation for organising such an event at Avenor?  

Romania is lucky to have ample opportunities to debate in local competitions and events. That said, where were the opportunities for students to participate as a school team that led to a bigger competition or final elsewhere? The debate bubble in Bucharest is excellent, but the students are very familiar with each others’ strengths and weaknesses, and I felt they needed an additional challenge. 

The Oxford Schools’ Debate Competition is a very popular event in the UK – it has over 350 schools competing every year. More recently, it has also grown internationally, with regional rounds in different countries all over the world opening up. I felt it was important for us to have a regional round in Romania and to give students competing the chance to progress to a final with unfamiliar faces in the historic Oxford Union at the University of Oxford.

 

How many debate teams does Avenor have?  How has the interest of students grown for such competitions?

Avenor Debate Club for grades 8-12 currently has 33 members! I hope it will keep on growing next year! 

When it comes to competitions, we set up an internal qualifier to ensure that the selection process is fair and that the students who are ready to compete go forward to represent our school. Some students are more interested in the World Schools’ debate formats where they have teams of 3 and a reply speaker, whereas some enjoy the British Parliamentary style with teams of two and only 15 minutes time to prepare for a debate!

 

What were the debate topics, and what results did our school achieve?

The regional round of Oxford Schools’ Debate Competition implied for the 56 participant students to take part in two rounds of debate on the motions selected and introduced by the two students from Oxford University: for the first round, ‘This House Would demolish all monuments built by recently toppled repressive regimes’ and the second round, ‘This House Prefers a world in which elderly parents live with their adult children as opposed to living separately.’

Our school did very well – one of our teams was amongst the three top performing teams, who qualified for the final at Oxford University. The environment that day was highly competitive with all teams achieving good scores. As a result, the decision to choose three finalist teams was made by the judges from Oxford University in collaboration with the judges from the other schools. As the organiser of the day, I can say that the top ten performing teams were all a few points within each other!

 

What does it mean for the winning team to attend the second phase of the competition, which will take place at Oxford?

The final at Oxford will be a significant step up: speaking time will increase from 5 minutes to 7 minutes, and students will be able to bring pre-prepared material with them to support them in the debate, but it will be tricky ensuring that the material will be relevant and they will have to think quickly on their feet and adapt to arguments they don’t predict coming from equally strong public speakers.

 

Why is it important for students, in the long run, to participate in such competitions?

While the competitions themselves are a chance for students to test their strengths as public speakers against other worthy opponents, the work they put into preparing for competitions is equally or more important than the competitions: the super-curricular reading they do to be familiar with an array of motions and topics, tirelessly honing their persuasive writing and public speaking skills through practice rounds – these actions equips students with attributes and competencies that make them successful in their further education and careers as well as debates.

A highlight of our recent Oxford Schools’ Debate Competition – regional round – was having our two guest judges, students from Oxford University, speak to our students in high school about the value of extracurricular activities in the process of applying to universities in the USA and the United Kingdom.

Ultimately, exposure to debate or other extracurricular activities that facilitate a better understanding of the self and the word will undoubtedly help students narrow the scope and focus of their future applications for university, whilst also arming them with confidence, competencies,  and knowledge about how to present themselves and communicate effectively.

About Avenor – with Doru Căstăian

On February 8th, we had the pleasure of hosting Doru Căstăian, a philosophy professor, on our campus. He addressed the community on the topic “How to Live a Good Life” – the second conference in the series “What’s Worth Learning?“.

The experience of discovering the significant impact that behaviours like constant reflection, moral ethics, and balance have on individual well-being was an enlightening exercise, demonstrating to everyone present how we can incorporate philosophical concepts into our daily lives to enhance our educational, professional, and social experiences. 

We take pride in sharing with the entire community Doru Căstăian’s reflections following his visit to Avenor. For us, his visit was a learning experience for which we are grateful, as well as an opportunity to get to know each other.

 

For me, a teacher with twenty years of teaching experience in a (single) state school, but who has dealt with numerous schools within the system over the years, the visit to Avenor felt like stepping into an educational wonderland. At Avenor, I witnessed operational ideas and principles that I had previously encountered mainly in literature—a blend of rigour, adherence to rules, and social and intellectual openness. These elements transform a mere school organisation into a flourishing and dynamic educational community.

No, please don’t assume I’m naive or that I’ve been captivated solely by the (impressive!) infrastructure or the understated glamour that subtly suggests we’re in a prosperous community. I’m actually referring to the intangible connection that reflects on the children’s faces, who are truly the most important here. It’s about the invisible bonds where healthy routines are embraced. Here, curriculum leaders pose genuine problems both theoretically and practically, rather than simply going through the motions with trivial matters. I’m talking about the prevalent collaboration among teachers, where sharing ideas and overcoming mistakes with integrity and bravery are commonplace. Moreover, parents are integral members of the educational community, respected and consulted, yet not granted every wish despite their contributions.

Ultimately, I’m also referring, to the ongoing learning process of teachers, their efforts to explore, observe, and absorb insights that contribute to the school’s ongoing relevance and competitiveness.

In short, Avenor is a school community from which we all have a lot to learn, including how to build a (healthier) relationship with the state system and its rather bureaucratic, old-fashioned tendencies.

In matters of education, I don’t subscribe to singular solutions. I believe in the necessity of both public and private education. Schools like Avenor, accredited in both state and international systems, present an opportunity for us, for the sake of our children, to transcend tribalism and dichotomous thinking.

Certain good practices and constructive ideas from Avenor can be adopted tomorrow (or today) in any of the public schools at no cost or minimal costs. That’s why I encourage every school director or inspector to make an immediate visit here. Any open-minded individual will leave inspired and enlightened after interacting with the school community here, especially since Avenorians are open, empathetic, and willing to help.

Lastly, a word about the school’s people, perhaps its most crucial asset. Children and teachers (and parents, although my interactions with them have been fewer), resemble those in any school in Romania. The same familiar hum to any seasoned teacher’s ears. The same curiosity that has always resonated with me, the same young minds eager to unfold as soon as they’re encouraged.

For a moment, I closed my eyes and dreamed that every school in Romania would have at least some aspects of Avenor.

I don’t idealise, and certainly, we could critically assess certain ideas and philosophies underlying such an educational approach. I couldn’t help but reevaluate my old ideas (developed in several texts over the years) regarding the benefits and limitations of entrepreneurial models and methods in education. But beyond all this, the visit to Avenor was more than just a semi-social event for me; it was a profound experience, a joy, and a revival of hope.

It is possible.

Discover Avenor – Open Day for families interested in education at international standards

On February 14th, at 8:40 a.m., Avenor is organising the Open Day event for families who want to learn more about the educational journey we offer to students, from ages 2 to 18. Discover Avenor is an event dedicated to students aiming to enrol in grades 2 through 10 for the academic year 2024 – 2025.

The novelty of the event lies in the fact that all children registered for the Open Day will be able to participate in a class session alongside Avenor students and teachers.

Registrations for the Open Day can be made HERE.

On February 14th, between 8:40 a.m. and 10:05 a.m., we open the gates of the Avenor campus in Greenfield to welcome families interested in discovering what learning at Avenor looks like, how we guide our students to reach their full potential based on their passions, and what the atmosphere on our campus is like.

Through this event, we aim to provide parents concerned about education with the opportunity to receive answers to the questions they have when looking for the right school for their child. In specially designed sessions for meetings and discussions with our educational leaders, Avenor students, and parents from the community, we aim to provide a clearer picture of how the learning process is structured, with the student at its centre.

Additionally, children participating in the Open Day will have the opportunity to become Avenor students for a day. They will be invited to participate in a class session appropriate for their age, thus having the chance to directly see the classroom atmosphere, the relationship between students and teachers, and how learning actually happens.

Both parents and children are welcome to explore our campus located on the outskirts of Băneasa Forest.

Over the past two years alone, we have invested over 4 million euros into this purpose-built learning environment, comprising 5 buildings, 50 classrooms, dedicated laboratories for sciences, arts, computer science, design, drama, a state-of-the-art sports hall, and two outdoor sports fields.

About Philosophy Today – with Doru Căstăian

At Avenor, we are constantly concerned with making learning relevant, interesting, and useful for real life.

What’s Worth Learning?” is an important question for education, and we aim to find answers from the most erudit and remarkable individuals in our society. Thus emerged the initiative “What’s worth learning?”, which involves hosting conferences on topics of interest not only to our community but also to a broader audience, featuring speakers who are experts in their respective fields.

Scheduled for February 8th, the second conference in the “What is worth learning?” series will take place at the Avenor campus. We are delighted to welcome Doru Căstăian as our guest speaker. He is a teacher of philosophy at the “Dimitrie Cuclin” High School in Galați and an associate professor at the Faculty of History, Philosophy, and Theology, “Dunărea de Jos” University. He aims to teach us “How to Live a Good Life.”

 

The invitation extended to Professor Căstăian is motivated by the intention to learn from great philosophers how to build a good life and why it is worthwhile to have this topic of discussion and learning in schools.

Why Philosophy?

We are increasingly concerned about the quality of our lives – at home, at work, in our relationships with others and with ourselves – and we desire to have a good life. Philosophy has always been concerned with the good life, developing practices and tools that can be used both in everyday life and in the classroom.

Perhaps, for your child, the value of philosophical inquiry and its practical applications may not be immediately evident. Likewise, for you as a parent. Yet, many presumed innovations in parenting are, in fact, repurposed tools from ancient traditions of thought. Philosophy can be seamlessly integrated into everyday activities like brushing your teeth, watching a Netflix movie, exploring the city, or even enjoying a football match (especially when watching one). In all seriousness, I wholeheartedly believe that the benefits of philosophy remain relevant today, if not more so. Across the globe, people are rediscovering the forgotten riches of philosophical thought, whether to navigate work challenges, adolescence, or the complexities of first loves, both shared and unshared.” – shares Doru Căstăian.

The Resurgence of the Formative Spirit 

The resurgence of the formative spirit is increasingly acknowledged within Romania’s higher education philosophy sector, offering a broader array of “tools” to the general public, ranging from books to podcasts and master’s programs in philosophical counselling. Through vivid and concrete examples, Doru Căstăian will illustrate how we can integrate philosophical tools into our daily lives to address personal challenges and enhance our pedagogical practices in the classroom.

We cannot deceive human nature. We cannot manipulate fragments, uncertainties, or glimpses of feelings as if they were mist. Viewing everything as a production process is unrealistic; not all problems have algorithmic solutions, nor are all objectives SMART. Somewhere within the core of our minds, perspectives must converge to provide a coherent understanding of the world around us at every moment. These aspects may seem like mere philosophical embellishments on simpler matters, but they are not. They represent fundamental needs without which human beings suffer, both literally and metaphorically. Whether it’s ourselves, our children, or the adolescents under our care, even philosophical tools alone are insufficient; we must also nurture certain dispositions through what Foucault termed as techniques of the self. This cultivation can occur both at home and in the classroom, and I aim to demonstrate how” articulates Professor Căstăian.

Reflection and Self-Creation in the Age of AI

The widespread use of AI, which is becoming increasingly unavoidable, presents a host of specific issues that, like any technology, disrupt and reorganise our social frameworks.

Our lives are becoming more fast-paced, leading to a decline in reflection. We often seek the shortest and easiest routes, constantly searching for recipes promising success. However, algorithms, upon which such recipes are based, prove ineffective in matters of personal discovery and relationship-building.

How should we navigate this technological revolution, whether we are parents or educators?

Smart technologies are already reshaping our lives unlike any other technology before. We are only at the outset, and individuals of all walks, from the child completing homework with ChatGPT to the expert in the philosophy of knowledge, are striving to understand the unfolding dynamics. It’s tempting to adopt unexamined notions from our surroundings, whether envisioning a dreamy new technological utopia or predicting an impending apocalypse. However, as parents and educators, it is incumbent upon us to delve deeper, to understand how AI and its suite shape our knowledge, skills, memory, goals, and values. We must grasp its capabilities and limitations and leverage this understanding to become better parents, educators, and mentors.” expresses Doru Căstăian.

About the Purpose of Philosophy Today

How do we discover our values, how do we sift through what is important from what can be set aside? What is the meaning of life and how do we uncover it? What are our virtues?

I am honest enough and, I like to believe, lucid enough not to claim that I have a panacea. I don’t have motivational speeches for you, life recipes, or unbeatable algorithms. However, I do have some advice, a lot of willingness, and the desire to make new friends in the realm of reflection. It pains me to say, reflection has nearly vanished from the realm of our professional practices. And those who pay the price are almost always the children. They pay for our unforgivable hesitations, our arrogant ignorance, our existential confusion. Yes, in this millennium, I still believe in the promise made millennia ago by philosophy. That happiness is possible. That we can refine its patina every day. That a journey that usually begins with ourselves can be fascinating,” says Doru Căstăian.

These are some of the topics Doru Căstăian will discuss at the conference on February 8th, in an attempt to help us learn “How to Live a Good Life“.

 

Whoops, adolescence! – Workshop on how to navigate through adolescence

The adolescence poses numerous challenges, both for children and the adults around them – parents and teachers alike. The well-being of our students and the entire community takes precedence, and we consistently seek resources to assist parents in being well-prepared and always supportive of their children, no matter how tumultuous the phases they go through.

With the assistance of Mrs. Maria Tănăsescu, a parent in the community and editor at ZYX Books, a publishing company focusing on emotional education titles, we hosted a workshop on campus titled “Whoops, adolescence!“, drawing a significant number of participants – parents and teachers – eager to discover how they can remain reliable allies for their children throughout this challenging period in their lives.

Starting from the book “Ups, pubertatea! Cum arată lumea adolescenților de azi și cum vorbim cu ei despre teme dificile / This Is So Awkward: Modern Puberty Explained,” written by Dr. Cara Natterson and Vanessa Kroll Bennet, the two invited psychologists as speakers at the event – Yolanda Crețescu, clinically experienced psychologist working with adolescents, and Silvia Guță, psychotherapist and author – discussed the book’s themes and answered questions from parents.

Building on scientific information about puberty and the physical, mental, and relational changes it brings, the workshop extensively explored how the period of adolescence has evolved from our generation, to the generation of our children.

The two psychologists emphasised important aspects, noting that this period starts earlier, lasts longer, and occurs with a phone in hand, significantly altering the dynamics of things. Therefore, parents need to assume that what they did at 12, 15, or 18 years old, today’s youth are doing three years earlier. The differences between generations are immense and challenging to overcome, especially for parents.

Adding hormonal changes, sexual activity, low self-esteem, and body image to the narrative complicates the situation further for parents who aim to bring their children into their world rather than entering the children’s world. Without making a genuine effort to understand their needs and issues during this period, things become even more difficult.

Young people in their teenage years are just like the adults, they are small humans. They face the same issues as adults, but they’re encountering them for the first time. HENCE, ADOLESCENCE MARKS THE ERA OF INITIAL EXPERIENCES. 

If you, as a parent, aim to connect with an adolescent, look back at how you felt and thought when you were their age, rather than solely focusing on your current emotions.” advises Yolanda Crețescu, psychologist.

KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM THE WORKSHOP

Navigating adolescence is no easy feat. Adolescents struggle through these years as they seek independence and validation, experiencing immense mood swings and grappling with daily changes in their self-perception. It’s a tumultuous period where they might easily slide into eating disorders, and mental health issues may arise.

That’s why it’s important for them to feel safe regardless of what happens to them. No matter how challenging it is for parents to accept certain behaviours or attitudes, it’s crucial to stand by their children, provide explanations, and show them the imperceptible benefits. Being there for them in unpleasant situations (for parents), with patience and without judgement, parents can help their children more than they realise in the moment. Also, we must not forget for a moment that people are imitative, including teenage children. Therefore, the example set by parents remains a reference point for the child who will mimic the behaviour – whether positive or less so.

We had some ‘aha moments,’ created by the frankness and openness with which the psychologists spoke to us – I felt several times that they were speaking directly to me, about my child. I particularly resonated with Yolanda’s speech, which often validated my feelings towards what my preadolescent child does and says, and even what I can or cannot do to support her.

I was left with the message that being a parent of a teenager ‘has’ to be difficult to be good, a validation that I think any conscious parent needs from time to time.” – is one of the testimonials received from a parent who participated in the workshop.

STEAM – A Learning Experience

At the conclusion of the initial module of the STEAM project, tailored and introduced specifically for the fifth grade, Smaranda Nicolau reflects on the students’ progress through the first module of this innovative educational project and delves into the project’s underlying principles. She explains the main objective beyond teaching students four subjects from their conventional curriculum and explores how this approach alters perspectives, impacting both students and teachers. Smaranda Nicolau teaches Drama and Media Studies to High School students and is the proud co-creator of the year 5 project alongside the wonderful team of teachers in the STEAM project (in alphabetical order Victor Bratu (Computer Science), Salih Gokcel (Design & Technology), Dr. Bogdan Topîrceanu (Arts), Vlad Oancea (Drama), and Irina Zamfir (Coordonator).

 

At the beginning of the school year, Avenor College launched an exciting trans-curricular STEAM Education project titled “How to Build Another Me.” The project challenges students in 5th Grade to learn about what makes humans behave the way they do, by attempting to build a robot with human-like behaviour. In order to build the Robot, students will require conceptual knowledge and skills from four different subjects – Computer Science (CS), Design and Technology (DT), Arts (A) and Drama (D) – which make up the 4 STEAM Modules that kids complete throughout the year. 

This means that this year’s Grade 5 don’t have CS, DT, Arts and Drama in their timetables. Instead, they have STEAM. It also means, instead of studying each subject for 45 minutes a week for a year, they use their 6 week intensive STEAM Drama Module to create and perform the Robot’s story and personality, they use their 6 week intensive STEAM Computer Science Module to code the way the Robot moves how it communicates, they use their 6 week intensive STEAM Arts Module to create their Robot’s visual appearance and their 6 week intensive STEAM Design and Technology Module to design the moving parts, 3D print and assemble them into the final Robot, which the audience (you!) will be invited to meet and interact with at the end of year STEAM Exhibition. 

This project proposes an altogether different way of engaging with curricular concepts in each of the subjects above. Ultimately, the aim of How To Build Another Me is to deliver an educational experience that is relevant and provides long-term understanding not only of concepts and skills, but also of the ways in which these concepts and skills are applied in real life environments, outside of school. The aim, in other words, is the Future Readiness of our students. Building a Robot is simply an excellent excuse to achieve an aim that is already worthwhile.

CORE LEARNING – INPUT – PROCESS – OUTPUT

One of the main goals of this project is to provide a unified learning experience, where students are encouraged to transfer learning from one discipline to another. In order to do this, we chose a single and simple piece of core learning to connect the four modules together. That piece of core learning is the triad of INPUT – PROCESS – OUTPUT.  

How do students learn about Input-Process-Output? 

They are required explicitly to transfer knowledge from each of their four modules to the others in order to figure out what kind of INPUT it takes to generate human-like OUTPUT in a ROBOT.

This lesson takes on a different form in each subject. This is also key to encouraging transfer – facilitating the students’ encounter with the same notion in different contexts will help consolidate the understanding that this notion can be transferred to further contexts. Indeed, we deal with Input-Process-Output in two ways:

  • In Drama and Computer Science, we use the triad to explain how the Robot moves and communicates. In Drama, we ask what makes a human being behave the way they do. We ask students to explore and debate how they themselves behave differently in different contexts, and how their present behaviour is sometimes influenced by their past behaviour. In Computer Science, we ask them to translate the complex stories they create into code that makes the robot move and sound in a way that makes logical sense with the backstory they create in Drama. So in a nutshell, if a robot was treated badly by its makers, it will behave differently (move and sound differently) from a robot who was treated well and is generally interested in helping people;

  • In Arts and in Design & Technology, we deal with Input-Process-Output as it applies to a creative problem-solving process. In Arts, students begin with observations of the human body and move on to creating original designs for characters, based on themselves, that they 3d Model and print. The Input is the observation but the creative process leads to the outputs (the models) being vastly different from the observable reality. The course is a reflection on how the arts construct reality. Whereas the Design & Technology course is a lesson in adapting and readapting your process to suit the given Input – the design brief. Design&Technology is a lesson about improving the process. The best possible output will be generated by a process that has adapted to the greatest possible extent to the available resources.

Teachers and Students REFLECT ON STEAM MODULE 1

The first Module took place between September 15th and November 15th and consisted of 6 weeks of intensive learning. During these 6 weeks, every Wednesday morning, from 8.30 – 11.10, students from the entire year were assigned to one of the four STEAM groups. The Epic Engineers group took Arts, Imaginative Inventors did Design and Technology with Salih Gokcel, the students in the Robo Racers group went to Computer Science with Victor Bratu and the Tech Titans group got Dramatic with Vlad Oancea. Students worked in a manner they have not experienced in their history with formal education – they worked in intensive, 3 hour bursts on creating the product that will later become their team’s ROBOT. And here’s how it all went. 

In Drama – The Logic of Storytelling 

I used to think Drama wasn’t for everybody, but now I think anyone can do it. I used to think STEAM would be like all the other classes, but it’s more fun. My favourite thing about the Robot is that everyone has to contribute, it’s not just one person (playing and writing) the Robot,” says one Drama student. 

Another mentions: “I used to think Drama is a lot more about acting, but now I think it’s also about writing.” This student quite enjoys performing and Drama games and enjoyed this side of class – she  didn’t enjoy writing as much as she enjoys acting but she is now quite excited to be performing what she wrote at the Exhibition. The curious thing is at the other end of the spectrum, two students who didn’t generally enjoy Drama Games or acting did excellent performances because they very much enjoyed writing the backstories and creating the Robot Makers civilisation.

Vlad Oancea, Drama teacher, reflects on the benefits of his approach, which focuses intensely on how stories and performances make logical sense. “From the Drama classes perspective, the main benefit of the STEAM module is the opportunity it offers to children to think and find solutions outside of everyday life. The fact that they have to build a robot, both physically, but especially on the personality level, is not something for which their daily reflexes offer much support. And then, with the creation of this robot, their personality gets another dimension, where abstract thinking, teamwork and imagination are the key elements.

In Design & Technology – The Importance of Teamwork

One student used to think that 3D printing was easy, but now he thinks it’s difficult. He saw difficulty as a negative, but we treat this negative as a positive because the student has actually gained a much clearer understanding of the effort required to design and create a product – he is no longer underestimating the task at hand and actually performed very well in his D&T class, which means that he proficiently managed his challenges. Another student was excited to be building things, having come from a school where there was no STEM or STEAM offer. This student loves building and found it actually enjoyable that solving problems in the design process was more complicated than he thought it would be. Yet another student reflects on how they thought that STEAM would be boring because they would just talk about building robots but is now super excited that she is actually getting to build a real robot, not just a model (although she mentions she would have also enjoyed building a cardboard model but thought the 3D modelling app was cool too).

Salih Gokcel, Design & Technology teacher acknowledged the role of team-work in overcoming these challenges in his Module:

The integration of Design and Technology into our curriculum has proven to be a game-changer for our young learners. The hands-on approach to learning has ignited their creativity and problem-solving skills in a way that traditional methods alone cannot achieve. From designing and prototyping to bringing their ideas to life, our students have embraced the challenges and opportunities presented by our STEAM module. Through a common goal to create a functioning robot, they have learned to communicate effectively, delegate tasks, and appreciate the diverse skills each team member brings to the table. Design and Technology have provided a platform for them to explore their individual strengths while contributing to a collective goal.” says Salih.

In Computer Science – The Evolution of Abstract Thought

I had a very interesting philosophical discussion with one student who just completed the STEAM Computer Science Module. He says that programming the robot was more difficult than he imagined because he didn’t understand he would have to give it word-by-word, step-by-step instructions. He elaborates: “I can’t just turn my brain off and think like a thing that can’t think (the robot). For example we had to program the robot to make a sandwich and I thought it would be easy: take bread, take peanut butter etc.; but what we actually had to do was something like ‘move one step forward with your left leg, use your right arm to open the drawer etc.’. It wasn’t difficult but it was tricky. It felt really good to solve it and I felt smarter because I had that feeling that it is more difficult to explain something to someone who doesn’t know than it is to learn it yourself. 

Victor Bratu discusses the importance of developing reasoning skills to the study of STEAM ICT: In our STEAM program, 5th-grade students take part in a transformative journey in abstract thinking. Through lessons on algorithms, diagram flows, the binary system, logic gates, and robot programming, they progress from concrete problem-solving to more abstract approaches. They learn to break down complex tasks into step-by-step procedures, represent ideas using flowcharts, and grasp the binary language of digital computing. Along the way, their logical reasoning skills sharpen as they explore the functioning of logic gates. Witnessing this growth is truly inspiring, as it fosters creativity and problem-solving abilities that will serve them well in our rapidly changing technological world.

In Arts – Growth through Challenge

Bogdan Topîrceanu, Art Teacher tells the story of growth in response to challenges during his first STEAM Arts Module: “The 5th Grade STEAM project proved to be a constructive challenge for both myself and the students. Because we’re piloting the learning of new media technologies it was a steep learning curve for everyone, but this taught the students to be flexible, to adapt, to be resilient in front of new challenges in order to overcome them.

Working with new technologies, they faced adversity and had to deal with the fact that what they had in mind was not yet possible to achieve on screen. This taught them to be patient, to give themselves time to experiment, to fail, and then to use the past experiences into iterating a new, more successful version of the process.” reflects Bogdan.

In Art we’re choosing to only share one student testimony – simply because we feel like this student wonderfully captures the essence of what we are trying to communicate, with regard to ALL subjects. Speaking about her experience in STEAM Arts, this student says simply: “I used to think that art isn’t something important, but now I think and know that art has many sides but every one of them is important.”

That is what we leave you all with at the end of this wonderful first Module. We are especially grateful to our students for continuing to be amazing, smart, open-minded and hard-working. Keep it up guys!

The Avenor Christmas Charity Fair carries on

Maria, a 12th-grade student and coordinator of the Avenor Christmas Charity Fair, tells us what this tradition means to her. 

Each year, as students bravely assume the responsibility of overseeing this large-scale event, it perseveres and enhances the Christmas spirit for all members of the community. For the Avenor Christmas Charity Fair, this spirit transcends mere goodies, hot chocolate, games, and carols—it embodies something more profound.

 

Two years ago, around this time, Cate, then a senior in the 12th grade and the coordinator of the Avenor Christmas Charity Fair, suggested that I take over the organisation of this project alongside Clara.

This summer, I found myself in a similar position, suggesting to Sonia and Ana, both 10th-grade students, that they take over the coordination of the fair that binds us all together.

Avenor Christmas Charity Fair, a tradition of the Avenor community now in its seventh edition, is the project that helped me discover myself. In middle school, when the fair meant only the Christmas spirit, hot chocolate, and the prizes I could win at the stands scattered around the campus, I dreamed. I dreamed that one day I would be in the position of the high school students in the organising team who, on the day of the fair, rushed around with a lot of work. Although I had my personal projects that took up a lot of my time, I still hoped that, miraculously, I would one day be running around the campus in December as the organiser of one of the most beloved events.

Time has passed, and in the 11th grade, Clara and I became the coordinators of the Avenor Christmas Charity Fair. Driven by the memory of the child within us who would have jumped for joy at such news, we started working on it since September. And not alone, because organising the fair involves having a united and strong team by your side, working side by side.

The 2022 edition had six departments of specialists behind it. Each team had its own responsibilities. Beyond what was planned, there came the unplanned, surprising, and unimaginable, for the seventh-grade child who once wished to become the organiser of the Christmas fair. Communicating with the association we chose to support, coordinating with the school’s leadership team to create a fair schedule that ensured the safety and enjoyment of all students on campus, and inviting the community are just a few aspects that pushed us to the limit.

 

All the fatigue, all the work, and all the glitter that entered our eyes as we made decorations for the fair were forgotten and didn’t matter anymore when the Avenor Christmas Charity Fair opened. On December 20th, at 1:00 PM, hundreds of children swarmed the stands, with the favourites being those filled with treats.

I admit that during the fair, I didn’t know if it was a successful event or not, and if the other participants were enjoying it as much as I was until the moment I looked at the pictures. Seeing children with whipped cream on their noses, faces hidden behind cotton candy, and arms full of prizes won at the stands, I felt fulfilled and realised that I had become one of the high school students I used to watch years ago, running wildly through the fair. And this experience made me relive the joy from the 7th grade.

With the conclusion of the 2022 edition, after the stands were dismantled and stored for the next year, I knew, with a knot in my stomach, that it was time to prepare to pass the baton. After my own investigations and consulting with the teachers around me, I knew that Ana and Sonia were the most suitable persons to carry on the tradition.

This year’s edition, I organised it alongside them, being very motivated to have a memorable event. It was my last fair as an Avenor student and the main organiser, and for them, it was their first experience as coordinators.

I took into account everything I learned from the organising experience of last year, and Ana and Sonia adapted, learned, and gradually took over the responsibility.

Discussing with Adelina Toncean, the founder of the Asociația Blondie our charitable cause for this year, we realised together that what we are doing is not just student led projects, nor just a joy for Avenor students eagerly awaiting the fair. It is an opportunity for life that we can offer to severely ill babies. And the feeling that this thought gives you cannot be defined and exceeds any expectation.

Although it’s hard for me to think that next year, at this time, I’ll be at college in another country or even on another continent, I’m already looking forward to the moment when I can come back to see Ana and Sonia in action. Then, as the years go by, I’m excited to see the other coordinators of this beautiful tradition, hoping it continues with the enthusiasm that Maria from the 7th grade had when participating in the Charity Fair.

Look, how it snows in December!

Dana Papadima – Educational Director at Avenor – is a benchmark for us when it comes to Romanian language and culture, values that we try to preserve and develop throughout the entire community. Every year, around December 1st, we invite Dana to talk to us about Romania, the Romanian language and what it means to be a good Romanian – ingredients that contribute significantly to a proper celebration of National Day. We invite you to read this year’s interview, which offers us a very authentic perspective on what Romania means.

I have often felt that religious sentiment, patriotism, and private relationships are matters that are strictly personal and intimate. I don’t quite understand the display of these feelings or beliefs in public spaces; displays such as humbly crossing oneself when passing by a church or public demonstrations followed by the well-known chest-beating about “my country,” or even revelations about private life. These are delicate, purely personal feelings deeply connected to one’s values and beliefs. I don’t strongly desire to share them with the “world,” whoever that may be. I believe patriotism is less about a traditional shirt or a tricolour headband displayed on Facebook and more about doing well on this earth during the days you have. However, I have read enough Romanian poetry with a patriotic message (I have an issue with music…), from classics to modern works. Ana Blandiana has written some wonderful poems on this topic as has Nichita, and my child’s soul still softens when recalling Peneș Curcanul or Sergentul or Trei, Doamne, și toți trei. Not to mention some classics like Alecsandri and Coșbuc.

The achievements of David Popovici however don’t fill me with patriotic sentiment, I instead consider him a product of talent, personal dedication, and the efforts of his parents and educators.

December 1st was designated as National Day immediately after the events of December 1989, as a reparative gesture after the hypocritical date of August 23rd from the communist era which was decided with no input from the public or professionals of our country. And so it remained; no one bothered to question why this date and not another under the idea that it symbolically represents the great reunification. My innocent objection is rather related to designating “Deșteaptă-te române!” as the national anthem, partly because it has a profoundly vengeful message and, on the other hand, because, although the melodic line is beautiful (composed by Anton Pann), it is originally a religious song, with a serious and descending tone, a Byzantine melody, in my opinion, less suitable for a national anthem and very, very difficult to sing other than by professionals. Both ‘singability’ and message should be the aspirations of any national anthem.

Furthermore, there is a persistent confusion here that started in the Romantic era, that a national celebration is necessarily an occasion to honour the bellicose past and the sacrifices of our ancestors. I would separate these two things: honouring heroes, military parades, the solemnity of speeches and church presence, and a day dedicated to celebrating National Day, where people can enjoy and watch stunning fireworks. But, as they say, that’s all we could achieve…

Starting from the reflection on what it means to be a good Romanian, I would also bring up a perpetual identity debate: either we Romanians are the best, the toughest, the most unjustly treated in the world, and our virtues are not adequately recognized, or we are a people of nothing, of bare elbows, of contextual survivalists. It doesn’t seem fair to me, and all these discussions about what would be called Romanian exceptionalism (for better or worse, as I have seen), I don’t know to what extent they help us understand an identity matrix, of the type ‘we are what we are’. An interesting people, at the crossroads of fascinating cultural and linguistic influences, a culture small in relation to the great civilizations but full of creative impetus. Caught between anachronism and modernism, between the Carpathians and the Balkans, between Europe and non-Europe, between tradition and revolution. Eternally between worlds, but precisely for this reason, interesting. Let’s not look for overarching labels, but let’s be satisfied with what we are.

Philosopher Constantin Noica has a volume, splendid in style, of cultural essays titled “Sentimentul românesc al ființei.” At its release, the book was highly praised, serving as a cultural touchstone for many. With one exception, the malicious ones among us. The other philosopher and colleague living in exile in Paris, Emil Cioran, sent Noica a congratulatory letter that ends with the following remark: “And now, what about the Paraguayan Sentiment of Being?” Subtle irony, by no means malice, an encouragement for a better consideration of identity exceptionalism…

My patriotic experience occurred only when I lived away from Romania and it was not Romanian people I missed but the Romanian language itself. For a few years, I lived in the midst of Western civilization, in conditions incomparable to Romania at that time but was forced to use, at times German, French and of course English. That’s when I realised that I could replace beautiful landscapes with other beautiful landscapes and visit close friends from time to time. I never shed tears of excitement for the national football team’s victories, no more than I cry at the victory of any sports or artistic star, no matter where they come from. But my authentic existence, in joy and fullness, could never settle without the Romanian language.

National Day is, for me, the Romanian language. That’s why I celebrate it every day.

Discovering Avenor: Insights from a dual perspective – interview with Richard Thomason – Head of Secondary and Teacher of History

Richard Thomason is the Head of Secondary at Avenor starting from this academic year. We are pleased to have him with us in a dual role, also serving as a teacher of History at the Secondary School. After two months of active engagement within the school, we invited him to participate in an interview where he could share his experience at Avenor, what pleasantly surprised him, what areas we still need to improve, insights about the future Class of 2024, and the British values he found in the school.

 

During your two-month experience as the Head of Secondary and Teacher of History at Avenor, have you come across any aspects of the school or its students that have pleasantly surprised you? If so, could you share some of these experiences with us?

R: These have been two intense months during which I got to know the school, the students, the teachers, and gradually, the parents as well. I am convinced that there are still many things I will discover, but what has impressed me the most up to this moment are the opportunities offered to our students, especially the off site learning opportunities and the trips.

In addition, the expertise and support our students get with university applications to different corners of the globe is a very important aspect and I am pleasantly impressed by the quality of the Career Counselling Programme. 

I am also pleasantly surprised daily by the thinking skills and creativity of Avenor students and I should also mention the dynamic lessons that allow the students to showcase these skills. 

Last, but not least, the tracking of student progress is also the most thorough I have seen and any rise or dip in student performance is noticed straight away.

 

Avenor is dedicated to uphold British traditions and values. Have you observed these values manifesting in everyday school life or in different projects at Avenor?

R: I certainly have, I saw these through the recent student elections and the work of the Students` Council. We hope to further empower the Students` Council and have students influencing change more and more at Avenor. 

I have also seen a  commitment to British values through the various debating competitions and not least the Armistice day activities and Remembrance assembly and service the students were involved with. 

 

With our primary goal of preparing students for admission to the world’s top universities, what is your assessment of the potential of our Class of 2024?

R: Unfortunately I do not teach the grade 12 students and it is my loss as I don’t have the chance to know them as well as I would like to. They are mature, driven, reflective and courteous. I am excited at the opportunities that await them and I have seen all their university plans and aspirations and have no doubt they will be successful. 

I am confident they will surpass the 2023 results but the bar is high. They have to do the hard work to support the obvious potential. We are all behind them and wishing them every success for 2024. 

 

Juggling dual roles as both a Teacher of History and the Head of Secondary, how does your perspective of Avenor differ between these two positions?

R: As Head of Secondary, I am extremely proud of all the secondary school students. Behaviour is very good in lessons and the attendance of students is superb. However, we can improve and should strive to be better. I think in terms of punctuality and uniform we can be better.  Middle school students need to ensure they do not run inside at break time! High school students need to be better with wearing the correct uniform – the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement!

I really enjoy my History lessons and I am super proud of my grade 9 class who have started IGCSE to a really high standard and are heading towards excellence. My middle school lessons are vibrant and lots of fun. The students here have a passion for History and want to succeed and attain well. In fact, some of my Middle School students are super passionate about History and ask for extra homework.  

I am proud to be a member of the Humanities team under the excellent leadership of Prof. Dr.. Căpățînă. In History throughout Secondary school we are very skills focused and I have outstanding colleagues in Mrs. Socoliu and Ms. Dăscălescu to share ideas and inspiration. 

 

When children do as they please, parents do what they have to

In a world deeply divided on how to raise, educate, and guide today’s children into becoming the adults of the future, Professor Mircea Miclea succeeded in uniting a room filled with 150 people around a common conclusion: children tend to follow their desires, while parents must focus on their responsibilities.

In addition to his remarkable patience and extensive wisdom in explaining the metacompetencies that should be nurtured throughout the learning process, Professor Mircea Miclea emphasised the pivotal role of parents in shaping their children’s behaviour through their own actions, words, and, most importantly, by maintaining consistency.

The invitation we extended to Professor Miclea to join us at Avenor College on International Teachers’ Day was not by chance. The question, “What is worth learning?” is a shared concern that we address through both practical experience and research. Our aim is to adapt the process of transforming today’s children into tomorrow’s adults. 

Here’s how Professor Miclea responded to the inquiries of Avenor parents:

How can we teach patience to today’s children? 

“It’s becoming increasingly challenging to instil patience in children, particularly as they spend more and more time engrossed in digital technologies. Digital technologies are characterised, among other things, by the fact that minimal effort, such as clicking a mouse, results in substantial rewards relative to the effort exerted, and the rewards are immediate.

The initial step in teaching patience is to limit their excessive use of these digital technologies, which tend to foster impatience.

DELAYING THE REWARD 

The next step involves delaying the reward. This means that, even when they have completed their tasks, you don’t immediately grant them the reward you promised. For instance, if you’ve promised to take them out for ice cream, you delay it for some time, gradually increasing the time interval. Through this gradual process, their brains learn that the reward will come, but they must be patient.

In the subsequent stage, sometimes you provide the reward, and other times you do not. By not giving the reward every time they exhibit the desired behaviour, you teach them the value of perseverance.

Perseverance is cultivated when the rewards become less predictable – the child doesn’t know exactly when the reward will come. They are aware that it will eventually arrive, but the uncertainty instils patience, encouraging them to persist.”

Can ambition be learned? 

”Ambition is intrinsically linked to self-discipline. The fundamental rule of ambition is this: my objective is more important than my emotional state.

Frequently, our actions are influenced by our mood. If we feel tired, we might not rise from bed; if we’re in a positive state, we’re inclined to accomplish a multitude of tasks, but when our mood turns negative, we tend to avoid tasks due to fatigue.

THE GOAL TAKES PRECEDENCE OVER THE EMOTIONAL STATE 

This is a significant achievement, as you’ve observed that successful individuals prioritise their goals and objectives over their emotional states. Regardless of whether they’re feeling tired, sad, content, enthusiastic, or despondent, their goal takes precedence.

This rule is something that must be learned, initially from external influences. Then, you help them through all stages of acquiring this rule, which involves projection, identification, and finally synchronisation. As a parent, you must set an example if you wish to be emulated.”

What can parents do? 

”First and foremost, parents should examine their behaviour in their everyday lives.

Our brains possess a remarkable ability to derive rules. For example, a 5 or 6-year-old child can speak grammatically correctly without formal instruction because their brains unconsciously extract grammatical regularities, a trait embedded through evolution.

Now, consider this: children also extract regularities from our everyday behaviour, such as how we handle conflict, for example. If a child witnesses a parent resolving conflict through violence, they internalise this regularity.

Similarly, when children observe a parent choosing to prioritise their emotional state over a goal – for instance, deferring a walk until they feel better – they understand that their emotional state takes precedence over their objective.

Secondly, parents should pay close attention to how they reinforce or penalise behaviour, helping their children develop these rules.

UNDERSTANDING WHAT CHILDREN NEED AND LIKE 

The key distinction between adults and children is that, unlike children, we need to consider what benefits children. Children typically focus on what they like. For instance, a 3, 4, or 5-year-old child enjoys playing, eating ice cream, or watching TV for extended periods. However, our role as parents is to consider what benefits them.

It is beneficial for children to adhere to certain rules that aid them in adapting to the world around them. Thus, we establish rules.

“First, do your homework, and then you can use the computer for only 2 hours.” 

“First, clean your room, and then you have the right to go to a certain place.”

These rules are essential since they teach children valuable skills that will be relevant in various areas of life, regardless of their future career choices. By instilling these rules, we prepare our children to adapt to the world of adulthood, which is ultimately more valuable than their temporary affection.

In summary, it is crucial to have children who are well-prepared for the challenges of adulthood, even if it means they may not love us as fervently. This is more desirable than having them adore us but be ill-prepared for the realities of adult life.”