By Nancy Biska, Translation by Nina Gatzoulis, Published on Hellenic Communication Service LLC
The first American public school where the Greek language is taught systematically has become reality! The “Athenian Academy,” operating in Florida, has completed a year of successful academic work. It is the omogeneia’s reward for so many efforts for the perpetuation of our culture. It also embodies our hopes for preserving the Greek language worldwide.
In October of 1998, a new law was established that permits the founding of public schools by the American government, where in addition to the English language, an additional language should be taught with the same seriousness and effort as the native language is being taught. The American public calls these schools “charter schools”. Such a school provides the students with additional awareness of another language and culture that in standard public schools can not be offered. The first “charter school” was established in Minnesota; today there are about 140 “charter schools” throughout the United States.
The “Athenian Academy” is the only American public school where the Greek language is taught systematically and the staff consists only of Greek college educated teachers. The daily schedule of the school includes six courses. Three courses are taught in English and the other three are taught in Greek. Mr. George Poumakis, president of “Athenian School,” said that “the school received from the government $70.000.00 on its first year of operation, $70.000.00 on the second year of operation and an additional $5.000.00 dollars per student annually from the State of Florida. “Our original wish”, added Mr. Poumakis “was to establish a Greek-American school to provide our children the opportunity to study the Greek language, our traditions and culture. While we were doing this however, we chose the opportunity that a “charter school” provides, to attract in the magic of Greek culture and civilization, children of various nationalities.
The “Athenian Academy” during its first year of operation attracted 23 students of which seven are of Greek descent, while the rest are of British, French, American and Afro-American descent. Mrs. Maria Georgopoulou, a teacher in the “Athenian Academy,” mentioned that “in our school we are creating tomorrow’s philhellenes.” Mrs. Georgopoulou, with six years of experience, teaching the Greek language in USA, is a graduate of the Aristoteleion University of Thessaloniki, Greece. This teacher thinks that “charter schools” are the future of global education and also the answer to the preservation of the Greek language in the USA. “This new system”, she added, “releases our youngsters from the laborious task of attending an American and a Greek-afternoon school separately and in addition relieves the parents of any financial burden of sustaining an afternoon school.
The “Athenian Academy” is a public “charter school” just like the rest of them that exist in the US today and has adopted what is called “immersion system” of teaching students a second language and culture. During the teaching sessions of Greek the Greek language is used exclusively, and any usage of the English language has been avoided”, said Mrs. Georgopoulou. “The students are being introduced right from the beginning Greek mythology, Greek music and Greek traditions. In addition they are taught how to make mosaic icons”, added the teacher.
The student body and their parents are very supportive of the school during its first year of operation. Recently the school was the site of an art exhibit concerning Alexander the Great of Macedonia. This display “took” the children on a trip from the origins of Alexander to his arrival in Egypt. After the completion of five years in the Academy, the school offers to students a trip to Greece so they can get familiar with what they were taught in school.
Mr. Poumakis has made the accomplishments of the Academy known to several politicians in the States and in Greece as well and he has received much positive criticism and many nice comments from a variety of local newspapers. “What we need in our efforts,” Mr. Poumakis said, “is emotional support rather than monetary support to continue this difficult task. Just like other nationalities we are trying to preserve our language, culture and heritage with the only means: through the Greek language. It is our duty to teach our children our language.”