• Vezenkov1

    Spotlight on Students



    Outside the classroom, our students are richly talented in music, the arts, sports and other areas and many of them spend countless hours practicing these talents.  Below is a select list of our students and their special talents:   


    {slide=Ioannis Emmanouilidis: Scientist                                                                                     |green|closed}

    Ioannis always tells people that the computer is one of the most brilliant gifts of science and technology. We see them everywhere, he says, from a simple calculator to a very complex system like a robot. When he thinks about the exponential technology advancements accomplished in the last century, he just can't stop wondering about the role of computer technology in the coming decades.

    Computers have always fascinated Ioannis. His involvement with them started at the age of 8 when his father brought a desktop computer home in order to continue his work from the office. He never liked playing games. Instead, he intuitively craved knowledge about how these machines worked and what benefits they provided to us. Over the years, he evolved from disassembling, reassembling and repairing computers to creating and solving problems over and over. What started as mere “clicking” has now evolved into programming software, microcontroller circuits and fully functional operating systems.

    In addition to studying in the demanding IB Diploma Program at Pinewood, Ioannis is highly active in the field of Information and Communications Technology. He enjoys both short and long term ICT projects. As he says, small projects require little effort and ideally solve everyday difficulties. With today’s re-programmable circuits, he can build fascinating projects, such as a pocket sized motion detector, with very little cost.

    One of Ioannis’ long term projects has been his involvement in the field of robotics. He and his 3 teammates, who placed 1st overall in the National Robot Olympiad in Greece, have just returned from the World Robot Olympiad in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where they placed 9th in the world for the creation of a very unique robot.

    When I asked Ioannis about his inspiration for creating a robot for autistic children & his team’s subsequent 1st Place win at the National competition in Greece and top 10 worldwide placement, here’s what he shared with me:

    Around the globe, children often use computers from a very young age and it is important in today’s world for children to participate in various well-balanced activities that promote critical thinking. This is achieved through educational programs that have been designed specifically for this purpose. But what happens when a child with a pervasive developmental disorder such as autism interacts with a computer?

    Simply stated, the computer, the educational program and the way an autistic child must interact with these systems is far too complicated. Thus, the result is no interaction and extreme nervousness. This was our motivation for creating a type of system that must be very simple to avoid nervousness and one that addresses the restricted and repetitive behavior of children with autism.

    The EERI Robot (Educational and Entertainment Robot Interaction) that we built from scratch and based on an NXT-platform interacts with autistic children in an entertaining and engaging way to show them how to behave socially in their environment. Importantly, it also teaches them about the environment itself that surrounds them (i.e. colors, shapes). It was a great success for us to win FIRST PLACE in the National Robotics Competition in Greece, which in turn qualified our team for the World Robot Olympics in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

    Before we went to Malyasia, we tested our robot at a local school for children with autism in Epanomi and it was notably effective with them, even for a prototype model of this scale. After we tested it, we made the final upgrades before starting our trip to Malaysia.

    The experience in Malaysia was unlike all other trips to countries I have visited in Europe and the United States. In fact, I met a totally different culture compared to Western countries. But, in my experience, two characteristics describe the people of Malaysia: kind and dynamic. Greek people have similar personalities and I think this is one reason why I make new friends so easily from many countries in Asia. One of the fundamental characteristics of any Olympiad, whether for sports, robotics, mathematics or any other, is to engage with your teammates in a community of people of different nationalities with the same goals – to compete with your best self and make new friends. In addition to earning NINTH PLACE worldwide in Kuala Lumpur, meeting new people is a gift in itself and also made our trip so special. I think Steve Jobs was right by saying “Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.” And this expresses the feelings of my team while we were returning to Greece, exhausted but with smiles in our faces.

    In the last 2 years, Ioannis has also focused his attention on a more challenging discipline of IT: Bioinformatics, a cross section of Biology and IT that deals with analyzing biological data, such as DNA sequences. Today, he is working on predicting the structure of proteins that are responsible for causing medical conditions and terminal diseases like cancer. By understanding the protein structure, one understands how this protein “behaves” at the molecular level.

    Ioannis plans to study Molecular Biology combined with Bioinformatics at university in the United States. His IB extended essay, an evaluation of genetic and anthropological factors causing spinal disc herniation, is proof of his motivation to study this field. I am confident that his continuous interest and active participation in the fields of ICT, Robotics and Biology will help him build a successful career in Biomedical Research.

    We wish you the very best of luck, Ioannis, in your endeavors this important field of study!

    Links to articles related to Ioannis’ robotics participation:


    Greek National School Network (Sch.gr)



    Official Press Release for World Robot Olympiad

    Press Release in English

    {slide=Marco Bustamante: Rower                                                                                          |green|closed}

    Marco started rowing less than a year ago, but after the first practice in the water, he knew he had found his athletic passion. He had always tried many sports, but none had felt right like crew. He was one of the most dedicated rowers on the team this past year and made fast progress, winning medals in early "friendly" regattas. Marco did so well that he was singled out to train with three other more experienced rowers at his club, Nautical Club of Thessaloniki, about four months before the national championships, as the coaches rightly saw great potential for the team of four. It was a grueling summer for Marco, as he was up at 6:00 am seven days a week to meet his boat mates, drive 45 minutes to a club on the river, practice in the heat for three to four hours and drive back. In late July, it all paid off when Marco and his boat mates won the national championship and broke the record for their division by an impressive 7 seconds. It was a major success for the guys and for the club. The race was so competitive that even the second place boat broke the previous Greek national record. Even at that, Marco's boat beat the second place boat by 3 seconds, coming in at 6:28 for a 2-kilometer race.

    Marco's boat mates are currently trying out for the Greek national team, and their national championship is giving them a good edge (Marco does not have Greek citizenship and therefore is not eligible to try out for the national team here). As a boat, they have plans for many more races this year.

    Marco had always wanted to try rowing, as his aunt was a crew team member at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, but it wasn't until he was at an art exhibition with his Pinewood art class that he saw the club and took the step to check it out. This has been added to the many activities that Marco participates in. He has been a member of the Pinewood Band since its inception when he was in eighth grade, as the band's bass player. He is a leader in Pinewood's Model United Nations program, he’s an avid participant on Pinewood's forensics team, and a broadcaster of an English language radio show every Wednesday on FM 100.6. Currently, Marco is also spearheading the organization of a fundraiser to raise money for a Habitat for Humanity project in Romania.

    As if he is not busy enough, he has his own jewelry company and website, and he sells at street fairs and bazaars here in Greece and when visiting Chicago. The jewelry is hand-made from wire, beads and even shells or pebbles from local beaches. This summer, he planned jewelry-making workshops for a youth foundation in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. These classes, teaching the kids how to make jewelry from everyday items, will take place this fall.

    Even with so much going on, Marco is a top student, consistently on High Honor roll and many quarters on Director's Honor Roll. He is a first-year IB student this year and plans to study engineering, possibly along with another major in a liberal arts department, at a U.S. university.

    Congratulations to Marco for his ability to balance high-level athletic achievement with outstanding academic performance!

    Below you can see a video of Marco's boat uploaded on YouTube.


    {slide=Alexander Vezenkov: Basketball Player                                                                         |green|closed}

    Alexander Vezenkov, Grade 11, an accomplished basketball player, is one such student. Basketball has always been a part of Alexander’s life. His father was an international player with the Bulgarian National Team, so Alexander began playing in Cyprus, where he was born, at the age of six. He attended Greek primary school and a British international high school in Nicosia before moving to Thessaloniki in 2010 when he started playing for ARIS Basketball Club…and also began attending Pinewood.

    With commitment, enthusiasm and hard work, Alexander has already generated an impressive list of achievements. He won the Pan-Hellenic Basketball Championship with the ARIS Cadet team and was named “All 1st Scorer” and “All 2nd Rebounder” in the European FIBA Basketball Tournament for U16 with the Bulgaria National Team.

    This year, he was promoted to the professional team of ARIS and played in a number of games against famous basketball players. He also led the effort of the ARIS U19 team all the way to the final. This summer, he will be leading the Bulgarian U19 team in another European tournament in Latvia and Lithuania.

    Alexander is a steadfast example of the student-athlete. He practices more than 4 hours every day and still manages to maintain very good grades. For example, in his first year at Pinewood, he was eligible for National Honor Society, received Honor Roll recognition and received the Departmental Award for Excellence in Physical Education.

    Although only a junior, several top universities from the USA have approached Alexander with full scholarship offers to play NCAA Basketball after graduating from Pinewood next year. This is a promising sign of great things to come.

    We wish Alexander the best in his career path as a college and professional basketball player and thank him for being such a prized role model to his Pinewood classmates.


    {slide=Theano Vassiliadou: Gymnast                                                                                        |green|closed}

    Theano Vassiliadou, Grade 5, an accomplished gymnast and musician, is one such student.  Theano started Rhythmic Gymnastics at the age of 4½ when she was in Kindergarten.  Rhythmic gymnastics is a sport in which individuals or teams of competitors (2 or more people) manipulate one or two pieces of apparatus: rope, clubs, hoop, ball, ribbon. There is also free, which includes no apparatus, and is called "floor routine". An individual athlete only manipulates 1 apparatus at a time. Rhythmic gymnastics is a sport that combines elements of ballet, gymnastics, dance, and apparatus manipulation. The victor is the participant who earns the most points, determined by a panel of judges, for leaps, balances, pirouettes, flexibilities, apparatus handling, execution, and artistic effect.

    At Theano's age in Greece, girls compete in ball, hoop, club and no apparatus.   This will be her 4th year competing.  Last year, her team placed second at the Northern Greece Finals and this year she will be competing again at the Northern Greece Finals. Budapest was the first time she participated at an international meet, where she placed second for no apparatus and fifth all around.

    Part of RG is ballet, which Theano loves.  Excitingly, this year was her first on pointe and in January she auditioned by DVD for several Ballet Summer Intensives in the USA. The Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Connecticut and the Chautauqua Dance program in New York accepted her and she was waitlisted at the American Ballet Theater in NYC.  She will be attending the Bolshoi Ballet Academy for three weeks as soon as school ends in June.

    Theano trains 4-5 hours / 6 times a weeks and only gets one month off during the summer. Three times a week she doesn't get home until 11 o'clock at night and on Fridays it is just enough time to get some sleep and roll out of bed to go straight to practice again.

    Training is so intensive for RG at a very young age that Theano takes it one step at a time. It is difficult for her to look too far ahead. Like every girl doing rhythmic gymnastics, she has the dream of being on the National Team of Greece.   However, she says that classical ballet and dance are also very viable career possibilities for her!

    Importantly, she has the right attitude about the incredible number of hours that she devotes to training. Her motivation is “to have a good time.”  She loves being in the gym, loves her friends and team, her coaches and couldn't imagine being anywhere else.  She also loves to compete and she is one of those kids who is never nervous for a competition.

    Theano also loves music.  She has been playing the piano since she was five.  It is sometimes a challenge to find time to practice, but she still manages to pass all the exams every year at her conservatory and participate in concerts. Until last year,  she was also part of the choir at Megaro Mousikis of Thessaloniki, where she participated in many productions.

    To see Theano in action both in rhythmic gymnastics and piano, click on the videos below.

    {slide=Panagiotis Pantis: Swimmer                                                                                          |green|closed}

    Panagiotis Pantis, ’16, a dedicated swimmer, is one such student. Peter, as his friends call him, has been swimming since the age of six. He presently stands in 8th place nationally in the 100-meter freestyle and 10th in the 50-meter freestyle. Of course, such rankings do not happen easily. Peter trains six days a week, including morning and afternoon training hours. His typical weekly training schedule looks like this:














    If you are paying attention, you notice that twice a week, Peter is in the pool while the rest of us are in our dreams! Moreover, swimming training season begins in September each year and ends in July, leaving only one month per year for him to relax and not train. This is typical of competitive swimmers like Peter. It is also dedication to the sport.

    During the December 2011 holiday, Peter went to Naoussa for intense training where he endured double swimming training sessions morning and afternoon for a week. Such intense training is an important component of Peter’s development as a swimmer and helps prepare him for national and international competitions.

    Peter’s most recent competitions include EUROMEET, an international event that took place in Luxembourg in January, where he placed 1st in both the 50-meter freestyle and 100-meter freestyle. In February, he participated in the NATIONAL WINTER SWIMMING COMPETITION and came in 5th place in the 100-meter freestyle and 7th place in the 50-meter freestyle. Also, he received two gold medals and one bronze in the three relays that he swam.

    Peter, who also has an impressive grade point average, represents that class of student who can balance both academics and intensive sports training. When asked about school, he says that Math is his favorite subject, but that he also enjoys doing research projects.

    Congratulations, Peter, for your hard work, dedication and successes as a student-athlete.


    {slide=Nina Bustamante: Gymnast                                                                                              |green|closed}

    Nina Bustamante, a dedicated gymnast, is one such student. Nina started training in gymnastics in the United States at a very young age. Since her family moved to Thessaloniki in 2005, she has continued to compete quite successfully in Greek gymnastics. She maintains a rigorous schedule, training 3 to 3.5 hours every day.  Hence, she is an exemplar of the student-athlete—exceedingly dedicated to her sport, but managing to stay very involved in school activities and maintaining honor roll-level grades. Although Nina trainsat an elite level, she cannot compete on the Greek National Team with her other club teammates, as she is not a Greek citizen. However, she currently participates in both Greek and USA Gymnastics in hopes of doing university gymnastics in the United States.

    Last month, Nina traveled to the U.S. and trained for a month at M&M Gymnastics in Wisconsin, the home of Chellsie Memmel, a world champion and Olympian, and a hopeful again for the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London. Chellsie's parents are the coaches, and her sister, Skyler, is a Level 10 Gymnast and Nina's good friend. Nina, who is competing at Level 9 this year, participated in the 2012 Team Spirit Invitational hosted by M&M Gymnastics, which gathered girls and boys from Wisconsin and Illinois. The M&M Level 9 Team, of which Nina was a member, placed second. Although her two top events are beam and floor, she performed best on vault and uneven bars—a good lesson for all athletes that anything is possible! Most importantly, she made remarkable progress in the time she trained at M&M and is trying to keep up the momentum here in Greece.

    Nina’s invitational performance qualified her for the Wisconsin State Championships in March, an opportunity for her to travel to and compete again in the U.S. Through this, she hopes also to make it to Regionals in April. We wish Nina the best of luck in the upcoming State Championships…and hopefully Regionals!

    To see Nina in action on beam, click here.


    {slide=Antonios Tsachtanis: Musician                                                                                          |green|closed}

    This week, Antonios is competing in the European Youth Philharmonic Orchestra Competition hosted by ERT in Athens, a competition open to young classical musicians aged 14 to 24. The European selection committee judges the final, which is televised by ERT in February, and one musician wins first place and is deemed the best in the country. This winner of each country is considered for selection to the European Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, a group of musicians considered to be the top European young musicians. The decision is taken from the International members of this committee who decide to choose a few musicians among all the winners from all the countries. In very rare occasions, Greeks have managed to be selected for the Orchestra since competition is extremely difficult.Antonios’ sister, Ellie Tsachtanis, actually won the competition a few years ago, but was not selected for the Orchestra. Regardless, it was a tremendous achievement. Antonios is quite young, competing with people 8 years older than him, so the competition will be strong for him. However, it is still a great experience and opens the way for subsequent years.  A few weeks later, one of the top clarinetists in Europe is giving a one-week master class in Berlin and Antonios will travel to Berlin to participate. This will also be a valuable learning experience for him and will enhance his progress.