Since it was founded in 2001, GZAAT has taught hundreds of students and has gone through many notable changes on the way, especially during the pandemic. Considering this, it’s interesting to know what AAT was like before. I’ve decided to interview alumni from our teaching staff.
Our first interviewee is a high school English teacher, Mariam Khidesheli (class of 2007). Mariam starts off our conversation by describing the experience of going to an American-style school while living in 2000’s Georgia. “It was like Hogwarts, I mean we were kids from the ’90s. It was amazing because a lot of simple things seemed like miracles to us,” she explains. From the moment Mariam stepped foot in the school on an open door day, she knew that she wanted to study in this academy which seemed straight out of a fantasy book.
Sopo Chkheidze, class of 2008 and now a math teacher in the junior high had a similar reaction when she transferred to GZAAT. “One of the first things I remember is when I first saw the library. I saw the students there. They were all sitting quietly, working, and nobody had to tell them to be quiet!” She remembers that it was a very strange and different experience, and she really liked it. Sopo continues talking about the culture of this mysterious school: “Adults were very polite to us. And in 2003 that wasn’t the case for Georgian teenagers.” Even though transitioning from a traditional Georgian schooling system was astounding to Sopo, it was also very enjoyable. She proceeds to describe a memory of one of the first Georgian lessons she had: “We were discussing a poem and the teacher asked us ‘what do you think the author meant?’ and I was like ‘why do you want to know what I think?! Aren’t you supposed to tell us what the author meant?” The teacher then explained that the students had the same right to interpret a poem as teachers. Hearing this from an adult was striking for Sopo. She however admits that the difference is probably not as noticeable anymore.
Unlike our other alumni, a 2015 graduate and a physics teacher at our school, Kato Tsuladze says that in the beginning, she did not want to transfer to the school at all! “Because of my fears, I did not have high expectations for the school before I transferred, but that completely changed”. Kato explains that she was very anxious about meeting new people and having to get used to an unknown environment. Like Sopo, Kato also points out that she was impressed with how much freedom students in this academy had. She says that this liberal approach to learning was one of the main reasons she chose AAT to start her career as a teacher.
All of the interviewees mention the family-like environment that distinguishes the school from all others. They talk about bonding experiences such as AAT days and assemblies. Even though almost no one knew each other at the start of their GZAAT experience, they had to interact with each other and therefore, students formed strong connections almost immediately. Mariam sadly points out that this has now changed. “Because of the pandemic, it will be harder for the kids to learn things, I mean social things. Especially those who stay at home because they don’t feel comfortable at school. Before the pandemic, all of us had to come to school whether we liked it or not. You had to come out of your comfort zone and get out and learn something. Right now, students have the option to stay behind, to stay in their shells, and not participate in anything. But this is life! Students have to experience things like that. I think that missing that opportunity will affect students long term.” Sopo elaborates on this topic with another outlook: “My friends and I used to come out of the classrooms crying. Not because we were sad, but because the discussions were so emotional.“ She points out that students nowadays are over-obsessed with grades. “We did care for grades, I mean we did want to have a good GPA, but current students are overreacting about their grades. All they think about is grades! And maybe that even impacts their friendships, because they think they should spend all their time studying to get good grades. As for me, I didn’t even try that hard to get good grades! And this wasn’t because I was a genius or something. I just enjoyed what we did during class and that’s why I had a good GPA. Today, one of my students asked ‘how did you have a 4.0 GPA?! Did you not have any friends?’ and I was like ‘I didn’t need to sacrifice my social life for good grades!’ So, I think that fixation on grades kind of changed the relationships among students.” Sopo supposes that the reason this is happening is that this system of education isn’t as interesting to students as it was 10-15 years ago. “This process of education was so much more interesting for us than our grades. And nowadays, children have much easier access to information. I also think the popularization of cell phones contributed to this. Children have so much information at their fingertips that it's almost impossible to excite them.”
When I ask Kato what the biggest change to the school has been, she mentions the addition of junior high and the lack of social activities due to COVID. She talked about AAT days and said that “even though the competition got very tough, during the preparations everyone bonded and became even closer friends than before. The loss of these activities due to the pandemic did sort of affect school culture. and other than that, there are no double blocks, no lunch, and no clubs are conducted at school, so there isn't much to observe.” But fortunately for us, she did mention one major positive change that forever changed the whole essence of the school for the better: no classical music on Fridays (yay?).
Even though hearing about the experiences we are missing out on isn’t necessarily pleasant, it's still important to remember the school’s past to carry on the legacy of being intelligent, friendly, and most importantly, extremely resilient. So, cheer on students of the pandemic!
Edited by Mariam Begiashvili