International School Savremena graduate Nikola Milutinović’s mother’s impressions
When it comes to their children’s education, the parents of the students of International School Savremena often feel a need to share their impressions; these impressions are important not only for the school, but also for all present and future generations of Savremena’s students.
Read on to learn about the impressions that graduate Nikola Milutinović’s mother shared with Savremena.
“The beginning of Nikola’s education at Savremena and how we chose this particular secondary school”
My child is a typical 14-year-old, at the end of his eight grade, and of course, the question is – where to continue his education? I wanted it to be somewhere where he would have good rapport with the teachers, where he would be welcome to ask anything he would like to know and where he could study and actually understand what his subjects are all about. I work until 5 PM every day and think about him being alone after 1 o’clock in the afternoon, after school; what he will eat, what he will do with his time. Doing homework of his own accord has, frankly, never been among his stronger points. Parenting a teenager of 14 or 15 brings along thousands of questions. So, I start thinking about private schools. I called one, then another; I did a lot of reading; I went to meetings, evaluated, compared and everything was either inadequate or too expensive. Just when I started thinking I was at the end of my tether, I stumbled upon Savremena’s website – a new school. So, what about this one, what kind of school is that anyway? I viewed the site and found things looked quite awesome, but I did not jump to anz conclusions right away. But what I definitely did see right away was that the site itself was excellent, the offers concrete, the pricing fully transparent, all clearly stated, no suspicious tiny print and such. In other words, an excellent website with concrete information – which I liked a lot and that’s how it all started. I called the school and scheduled our first meeting.
“To this day, my son has remained adamant about Cambridge International Programme being one of the best decisions of his life”
We were greeted by the school’s principal, Svetlana Belić Malinić, and the conversation was cordial and relaxed, free of any unnecessary praise; I saw that everything was OK and I decided to enrol my child there. Early on, we opted for the Combined Programme; after one year, my son wanted to switch to the Cambridge International Programme; we agreed, and to this day, he has remained adamant that it has been one of the best decisions in his life. I don’t find anything wrong with any of the other programmes, including the National Programme, but if your child is so sure about something that concerns his education, the parent should be supportive. And so he remained at the Cambridge International Programme for the next three years. It is very important for parents, especially parents who are at work all day, to know the whereabouts of their child. To be certain that the child is at school until 4 PM, that he has a meal there and that he will spend his time doing homework.
“Savremena supports its students and cares about their development and growth”
Simply put, Savremena supports its students, and that’s very important. Everything that is stated in the contract is true in practice; the school fulfilled all its promises. My son literally became a grown-up, mature person at Savremena. His sentences and his entire behaviour went through a palpable transformation between 2015 and 2019, largely due to the discussions and debates held in class. He is fully entitled to his own opinion and the school is very clear about that, and he has made full use of this clarity.
“Nikola has his own opinions and he is capable of defending them, which was a very positive thing for us, and the source was Savremena”
He has a well-developed sense of himself as an individual, but also as a participant in the society; he is tolerant towards differences, eager to view any situation from several angles and consider several solutions or explanations. The direct benefit from the school is quite obvious in this aspect, because their lessons included debates and fictional situations, which I liked a lot. Nikola has his own opinions and he is capable of defending them, which was a very positive thing for us, and the source was Savremena. Not once during the last four years did the issue of dressing for prestige rear its ugly head – there was zero talk about expensive sneakers, jackets, phones or anything of that sort (although we hear a lot about these things in the context of private schools). Studying – of course, it is a must if he want to be smart and to advance in life and it quite clear to him. This is not a school that lets you slide along just because you enrolled or because you pay for your education. At the Cambridge Programme, it is virtually impossible, since the tests are evaluated outside the school and outside Serbia, but it was never an option during his first year, while he attended the Combined programme: not a single teacher ever gave him an undeserved positive evaluation, because if you want to learn – you can, and the teacher is there to help.
Our impressions of Savremena’s principal and teachers
All teachers at the Cambridge International Programme were dedicated to the student, and it was paramount to us. If the student comments on his principal or teacher with “He/she is great”, then it must really mean something. I distinctly recall Nikola saying: “Our principal is great!” School principal… great… – things seldom compute that way in a student’s brain, but it obviously is a possibility. Practically, principal Svetlana Belić Malinić is the one holding everything together, in its right place – I liked her immense positive energy, enthusiasm and courage a lot. It’s no small feat, being the head of a school, especially in Serbia, where anything new is often met with quite a bit of doubt. Also, Svetlana always had a right answer for any quesion I had. First I’d ask my son; if he didn’t know, I would ask the teachers; if they did not know either, I asked the principal – and every single time, she was available, willing and able to answer all sorts of questions about the school, the programme, the options, the way Cambridge studies work, etc.
As for the teachers, I would certainly to mention by name the ones I communicated with the most and about whom Nikola talked the most. The first among them is Ana Vlašić, his physics teacher, his mentor and a source of great support in various endeavours. Nikola always viewed her as someone whom he could trust, open up to, and with whom he was able to discuss many things that he, perhaps, could not discuss with others. Ana is the one who reminded him not to be late for exams, informed him if the dates were changed and I know that, whenever he would send her a message with a question, and there were quite a few of those, she responded, without exception. She was the first to suggest that he visit the Faculty of Contemporary Arts, when she heard about his interest in acting (and this visit was probably the decisive factor in his decision to study at this faculty). What I noticed in my direct communication with Ana, was that such conversations were never shallow talk to her; that she really thinks about her students as her charges, tries to understand both their actions and their desires. Ana truly behaved as a real, responsible mentor should. Nikola was thrilled with her lessons and tried not to miss a single one.
Nadežda Golubović, biology teacher at Savremena, is also a great educator, which I was able to deduce from the fact that Nikola could talk about biology for hours and ask questions (since I am a biologist myself, these conversations developed into real discussions); only later would I realise that he learned about the things we had talked about at school. Nadežda is a teacher who really cares about her students; understanding of nature and its laws. Nikola would often tell me: “I discussed this with the biology teacher, here’s what she thinks…” – so there’s discussion, exchange of opinions, there are conclusions, and that is hugely important for the students. The very fact of being able to discuss things with a teacher, being able to express their own opinions, means a lot to the students.
Nikola Samac, Cambridge coordinator and psychology teacher, never taught my son’s class directly, but I know from my son’s stories that he often helped him with good advice, that they often talked about life’s dilemmas and that he was willing to offer his opinion on a topic my son would ask him about. He always found time for meetings and extra explanations, I could talk openly about my son with Nikola Samac and he always provided a clear picture of the kind of student my son was, how he behaved, what he was good at, where he was still searching,,,
During his time at Savremena, Nikola learned to play the guitar and the keyboards and he participated in the school band Gimnazijalci. In this aspect, he received valuable input from Uroš Krstović, PE teacher and head of the music club. He often discussed music and practised songs with Nikola and several other students. Guitar playing means a lot to him and he spends a lot of his free time playing, usually with a schoolmate.
About Savremena’s students
Just like anywhere else, there are different kinds of students; some are this way, some are that. The popular opinion is (although this situation has been improving lately in our parts, too) that private schools nourish students who are not required to study at all in order for things to go smoothly for them in school and in life because their parents pay for everything. Honestly, I never saw anything like that in these four years at Savremena.
I had no qualms about him going out with friends from our neighbourhood or with friends from Savremena. So, all the talk about kids at private schools harassing each other, that the only thing that matters is how much money someone has or what clothes they wear, what phone they have or what their parents do is completely untrue – at least for Savremena. To be quite honest, I think that these things exist everywhere to an extent, but that a lot of it depends on the parents, teachers, the school itself and the relationship between the students, and this relationship is something one needs to learn. Tolerance is something that you learn and it is unlikely that any of us were born with it.
P. S. I am also aware that at Savremena, just like at any other school, as well as on every street and at every workplace, there are different sorts of people. So, these things happen everywhere, but the right thing to do is learn not to associate with those who do not make pleasant company. In order to learn that, a teenager needs support from parents and teachers alike, and I know that such support exists at Savremena and I like that.
Our suggestion regarding Cambridge International Programme
It would be very useful to organise some sort of a meeting where parents would receive full clarification regarding the way the Cambridge Programme works throughout all four years, because it is quite different from our curriculum. I figured it out as I went along, even when I went to meetings for clarification, after the meeting, I would sometimes find myself wanted to ask something more. One simply does not know what to ask in order to get the full picture. For instance, the exams – how many times a year they can be taken, what happens if the student does not pass the exam; payment – when do you pay and how much; the mock exams – what happens if one applies for them, what happens if one fails, postponing, extending, the marking scheme, etc. I know that it is all listed at the Cambridge site and in the syllabi, but it involves a lot of paperwork, links, sites. It would be good if the school could compile this information and present it to parents through practical examples.
“I would recommend this school primarily to students who would like to learn as much as they can, because this is a place where they can really achieve it”
Our decision, as parents, to enroll our child in Savremena was, in my opinion, excellent, and I would recommend this school to all students, or at least the vast majority of them. Primarily to those who would like to learn as much as they can, because this is a place where they can really achieve it.
My recommendation also goes to those whose thoughts wander from one topic to another, who cannot and will not learn all subjects equally and who cannot fit into the realm of mediocrity, to those interested in extracurricular activities and anyone who learns at a different pace, which means, more or leans, the majority of our students and our teenagers.
Well, this has not been exactly short, but four years is a long time and I tried to compress and state the most important aspects, especially the things that other parents might find helpful.
I wish you all the best in your future work.
Desa Đorđević Milutinović, student Nikola Milutinović’s mother