In this instalment of Alumni Stories, we talk to Agata Kielczewska, a former student who later returned to ASW to work as a school counselor, helping students deal with the same transitions that she once had to.
When did you attend ASW?
I attended from ‘93 to ‘97, but I graduated from another school.
Which teachers do you remember?
Ms Putowski - Polish history, Ms Brzoza - Spanish, Mr. Dunmire - Biology (and Science), Mr. Suding - Science, Ms McKiiness - Music and Drama, Ms Young Music teacher, Ms Birch - art teacher, Ms. Harter - English, Mr. Alfonso - math…
I could go on for a while.
What was it like in the old building?
It was quirky. The school was in the parish buildings of the church in Wilanow. We had our morning assembly in the ‘Solidarity’ room of the parish building, in which the entire middle and high schools could fit. Some of the bathrooms had bathtubs (which we never used). There was a giant crucifix next to our lockers, which were also in the basement. There was no food in the school, so a lot of people went out to the kiosk next door, which sold french fries. There was also a students council store which sold things like Dr Pepper, which they got from the commissary.
There was a lack a facilities. Instead of the modern gym we have today, we had a giant military bubble, which was really cold in winter and very loud. It didn’t stop us talking though. We just had to holler instead of talk normally! And the changing rooms were in a builder’s barracks. We played badminton, basketball, volleyball, field hockey… and square dancing for some inexplicable reason?? Instead a running track, we went over to the Wilanow meadow, which since that time, has become and entire town. While we were running, the coach Mr Bienek would ride his bike behind us and yell at us to try harder!
Due to the lack of facilities we had to use the facilities in the city. When we put on a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream - which was a combined middle and high school production as was the case in those day - we went to rehearsals in the Palace of Culture and Science. The hit musical Metro was being performed in the theatre next door, and during breaks in our rehearsals, we got to take a peek at the rehearsals of Metro. That was exciting.
After school, we would usually go and hang out either at ‘Panorama’, which was a kind of mall (the only mall at the time) or in the centre. When it was cold, we used to meet in the Marriott hotel lobby. The fact we were English speaking kids meant we didn’t get kicked out - they just assumed we belonged there. We also went to the movies a lot, or to the 3-in-1, which was a Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC combined. Another favorite hangout for both students and teachers was Blue Cactus. In terms of getting about, we often took taxis since they were extremely cheap - for only 8000 zloty you could get from the centre to Wilanow. That’s 8zl in today’s money. For a night out in the city, 1 million zloty would be enough.
What did you do after ASW?
I went to boarding school in Sweden, where my world shrunk considerably. The town I was in only had a population of around 2000 people, and it looked like something from a Christmas card. There were candy canes shops everywhere and that was about it. In Sweden I took the IB, and then I went to study drama and theatre in Lund for a year, before moving back to Warsaw and studying Cross-Cultural Psychology (which my dad said was ‘like studying Marine Biology in Tibet’!) - but I had in mind that I would return to working in an international environment. I think a lot of people who have had international experience growing up, and who are split between two nations themselves, find great affinity in groups of like minded people, and also they find it difficult to feel at home in a monocultural environment, because when you’ve grown up in an international environment, you develop an openness to shifting perspectives, and an understanding that you’re able to adapt to very different sets of norms without it leading to internal conflict. So that is what lead to me coming back to ASW 4 years ago to work as a school counselor for grades 8-9.
What is the counseling program like at ASW?
As the school has grown, the need for social, emotional and academic counselling for all of the grades has become apparent and our program is bigger than it has ever been.
We now have 2 counselors in the elementary school, and 4 in the upper school. It’s proving to be important to the student body, and a lot of what we do focuses on transitions - entering-leaving the school, going from elementary to middle, from middle to high school, and from high school to higher education. A specific element of international schools is the constant changeability - greeting new people and saying goodbye to those leaving. As counselors, we work to support everyone through this.
My personal input into the counseling program at ASW has been to introduce a ‘positive psychology’ approach in the grades 6-9 program. It’s a strengths-based approach to student counseling, where we try to look at a students personality, character, skills etc and reinforcing those. We try to make the program as student led as possible, gathering feedback whenever we can, we utilize the VIA (virtues inventory), and we have a counseling curriculum we deliver to grades 6 through 9 that is vertically aligned. One of my colleagues in the upper school counseling department is Iza Skoczylas, another ASW alumni. The two of us are also the child protection leads for ASW. I think that our own experiences as students here help us relate to the kids and their reality.