Inspiring the Leaders of Tomorrow
By Megan Teramoto – 12th Grade
“I think the most important piece of advice I’d give any young people is be curious about the world, and examine things that you don’t know about, and get out of your comfort zone.” Andrea Kolich leans back slightly, arms comfortably placed on each armrest of her chair, as she explains this advice for her students. She sits behind the desk in her classroom, and it is evident from the posters adorning the walls that she truly takes this teaching philosophy to heart. These posters, filled with bright images of exotic places, encourage students to “Visit Israel!” and “Explore Japan!”
However, students don’t have to leave the country to get outside of their comfort zone–they have the opportunity to express their curiosity and explore new things every single day in Ms. Kolich’s Eastern World Cultures class. Ms. Kolich balances high expectations for her students with light-hearted humor, and this is what makes students fall in love with her challenging and fun class.
In fact, one anonymous student shared that, “Ms. Kolich is, without a doubt, one of the best teachers I have ever had,” and this sentiment is widely shared among students at Arizona School for the Arts (ASA), where she teaches. Ms. Kolich’s popular teaching philosophy branches from the ways that she pushes herself in her everyday life. According to her, she “enjoy[s] creativity and challenges, and [has] a fascination with the world,” and this is what ultimately helped her make the decision to pursue a teaching career.
However, Ms. Kolich did not always imagine herself as a teacher. When she attended Furman University on a tennis scholarship, she studied political science and philosophy. Here, she continued to challenge herself while earning her bachelor’s degrees, and she even visited Russia before the fall of the Soviet Union while pushing herself to go outside of her comfort zone. Ms. Kolich smiles widely and laughs as she recalls the trip: “… we had a KGB agent following us around, and I had to sneak into the home, dressed like a Russian.” Despite the potential danger, this experience was “eye-opening” for Ms. Kolich, and it helped further her passion for other cultures.
According to Furman University’s alumni page, Ms. Kolich took up a position as a journalist for the National Security News Service shortly after earning her bachelor’s degree, and here she covered environmental and national security issues. Ms. Kolich describes the experience, saying “It was really interesting to go in and interview, you know, top people at the Pentagon.” While Ms. Kolich was approaching international relations through this investigative lens, she was also approaching it through an academic one, as she attended George Washington University for a master’s degree in international affairs. Here, she began to delve deeper into the idea of human rights through studying the politics of reproductive health. In fact, while earning her degree, she worked for the center of Reproductive Law and Policy in New York City. After working here for six years, she helped co-author a book about the extremist and political sides of the anti-choice movement around the world. Finally, after doing some more freelance writing, Ms. Kolich found herself pursuing a career in teaching.
“I think it’s probably the most important thing that we can do to educate the next generation, so I think it’s almost like a civic duty,” she explains. Ms. Kolich definitely fulfills this civic duty by pushing her students to draw “larger themes” away from her lessons, asking, “What does that say about human nature? What does it say about society’s collective decision making?” Thus, students in her class are never just learning facts and dates. Instead, they are learning about the very nature of humanity and how to critically approach some of the biggest challenges that the modern world is facing.
“Maybe your generation will take up the mantel… I think the broad question is, getting you guys to think about how society should be organized so that there is more equality, really. That’s the broader perspective of it.” Ms. Kolich’s passion is evident as she leans forwarward and gestures widely with both of her hands while explaining her hope for the students she teaches. However, Ms. Kolich doesn’t simply sit back and wait for her students to change the world–she gives them the opportunity to make a difference even as young adults through the nonprofit she created called Freshman for Freshwater. After teaching her first class of freshman at ASA about South Sudan in 2015, she saw the engagement and passion of the students, and she knew that they could do something more with a little help. Ms. Kolich organized a group of freshman–a daunting task in itself–and helped them fundraise to aid the people in South Sudan who were suffering in the wake of a civil war. Over three years, with three different classes of freshman, Ms. Kolich helped her students raise $15,000 to build a well in a South Sudanese village, and this is what Ms. Kolich considers to be her “greatest professional success” to date.
Thus, while teaching about the tragedies of war and the trauma of colonization, Ms. Kolich manages to also teach her students about having compassion, caring for one another, and making positive change in the world. This is because, if students take away just a single idea from her class, Ms. Kolich says, “I hope it’s empathy. I hope they come away and go, ‘You know what? We have it pretty good, and we need to take care of other people.’”
What is so transformative about Ms. Kolich’s class isn’t just what she teaches, but it is also how she teaches; every day, she reaches out to the students who are most often forgotten, and she helps transform shy girls into powerful young women.
“I think the successes are in taking students who may have not had confidence… the people who have often been overlooked, who’ve often been too shy, who maybe didn’t connect with other teachers, or whatever, and then you see like the flower open, and you’re like, ‘wow, this is you! this is what I knew you could be!’ That’s the most gratifying to me.” Ms. Kolich explains some of her greatest teaching successes as she punctuates her last sentence with a quick nod of her head. By encouraging students to speak their minds and giving them the daily opportunity to practice expressing themselves in her classroom, Ms. Kolich shows students that they have the power to become leaders and make a difference.
This isn’t the only way that Ms. Kolich works to empower young women, however. Outside of the classroom, Ms. Kolich has written the first book in a series of children’s novels that she hopes will inspire young readers. This book, entitled The Secret of the Scottish Stones follows a young heroine who uses a magic kaleidoscope to enlist the help of important Scottish women throughout history. Having lived in Scotland for a time to conduct research for this novel, Ms. Kolich doesn’t just write about the women that everyone knows about, like Mary Queen of Scots, but she also takes the time to write about the women who history has forgotten, including Willamina Stevens Fleming, who categorized the stars and discovered the first white dwarf. Ms. Kolich describes her novel, saying “… you get access to all these really interesting, notable women, and you get to learn their stories, and then hopefully, the young girls feel empowered.”
However, what Ms. Kolich has perhaps not yet realized is that to her students, she is just like these historical women whom she writes about–she is a strong and independent woman who doesn’t just stand idly by while things happen around her. Instead, she takes hold of her own future and makes change in the world around her, and in doing so, she encourages the young women she teaches to do the same. Thus, while history may forget the name of Ms. Kolich, it is clear that none of her students ever will.