ACES – Academy of Central European Schools is the name of the new educational initiative launched by ERSTE Foundation. Along with the Interkulturelles Zentrum, the first steps in the implementation of a Central European school network were initiated. Within the scope of a competition under the theme “European Values”, 22 partner projects from a total of 54 schools from Croatia, Austria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia, the Czech Republic and Hungary were singled out. From 14 to 17 November, the participants are meeting in Vienna in order to present the results of their cross-border collaboration. An international jury of educational experts and artists will select the two most successful projects.
With ACES, a Central European school network is to be created to promote intercultural dialogue amongst young people.
“The best experience of Europe is when you talk with other Europeans, when you travel around it and communicate with each other," Boris Marte, Managing Director of the ERSTE Foundation, also describes his own experience. “The sooner you start doing this, the better. With ACES, we are giving many young people the opportunity to come in contact with others their own age within the European neighbourhood for the first time, and to experience what it is to be European.” Through personal meetings and joint projects, pupils and teachers will get to know the way of life, the school day and the language of their neighbours. “For more than 20 years, the Interkulturelles Zentrum has been supporting exchange between young people of different cultures. ACES is one of those initiatives and is the ideal continuation of our commitment,” explains Project Manager Christine Gamper from the Interkulturelles Zentrum and adds: “The ACES Network comprises of EU Member States and Non-EU countries in Central and South-eastern Europe. In this way, ACES is also creating new educational areas for cross-border cooperation and European themes and makes a significant contribution to the development of a common Europe, of a European Identity."
“European values” unites more than 2,000 pupils
Working with the Interkulturelles Zentrum, the ERSTE Foundation initiated an international project competition for school partnerships under the theme “European Values”. They were supported by the Ministries of Education of the eight partner countries, which informed the schools on the competition and encouraged them to participate. Around 100 schools registered and submitted their project ideas. From those, 22 partner projects with a total of 54 schools were selected. These projects were supported both financially and with assistance in the implementation process. Altogether, more than 2,000 pupils took part in this. “ACES enabled us to come together. We not only got to know our partner countries better, but we also rediscovered ourselves. And all those who participated in the project, whether they were teachers, pupils, parents or school board members, have grown personally with this experience,” Milena Forštner, a teacher from Slovenia, is convinced.
Award for particularly successful projects
Over three days, pupils and teachers met in Vienna in order to exchange experiences and present their projects to an international jury. In addition to an exhibition of all projects, the collaboration was evaluated in different workshops which enabled a review of individual project phases to take place. Finally, three winning projects were nominated and awarded prizes by an international jury. Experts in the field of international youth projects, including Gabriele Eschig (General Secretary UNESCO Austria), Gabriele Woidelko (executive Director of EUSTORY – History Network for Young Europeans, Körber Foundation) and Astrid Stefani (Programme Leader “Young Paths in Europe”) nominated “The counts of Celje – yesterday, today and tomorrow in word, music and picture” as the winning project. “It was very difficult to decide. Most of the projects stand out with innovative learning concepts. The results demonstrate the great commitment of the participants as well as a high degree of participation of pupils in planning and implementation of the projects," said Gabriele Woidelko. A second jury, consisting of artists from selected partner countries, including film maker Goran Rebic (Austria), writer Desa Muck (Slovenia), illustrator Sebastian Oprita (Romania) and the educational artist Renata Poljak (Croatia), rewarded the project “How do we fit together?” – a partner project from two schools in Hungary and Croatia. The project “Today’s youth in Europe” from four partner schools in Slovenia, Serbia and Romania received the audience award. The three winners were rewarded with a DVD collection with films for young people from all partner countries.
Educational initiative continued and network extended
Following the successful completion of the pilot phase, ACES is starting the second round at the beginning of 2008. “Our hope is to build a long-term, lasting and effective partnership between schools in Central Europe and to contribute to European integration. In the next year, further partnerships will be built with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, FYROM and Montenegro,” explains Knut Neumayer, Director of the “Europa” Programme of the ERSTE Foundation. The new competition theme will be announced in February 2008. At that time, all interested schools will have access to a partner exchange on the ACES Website (www.aces.or.at). The search for partners must be completed and the project ideas must be submitted by April 2008. The most innovative project ideas will then selected from the partner projects submitted and will be supported in their continuing implementation.