Media, PA – On a perfect Monday evening, the Hellenic Academy of Aristotle launched classes for the 2014-2015 year. Under the direction of Elias Pantelides, Director of The Academy of Aristotle, students and parents filed into the church hall, signed checks and watched Pantelides ring the bell-bringing the room to attention. The time had come for the first lesson of the year. Following a brief Agiasmo and group photo in the church by Father Anestis Bourantas, teachers gathered their flocks and headed into the classrooms.
Some 120 students were in attendance, up from last year by 5%. Five new teachers have come on board as well, for the bi-weekly program, bringing the total to 14. The Academy which is hosted at St. George Greek Orthodox church just off 352 in Middletown Pa, continues to grow and shine as a place where a Hellenic education is on the cutting edge.
The pre-K, K1, K2 classes are where the Academy makes the difference in Greek education. They offer the latest teaching techniques along with teacher aids for each classroom at this early stage. They also place children in rooms based on abilities in these early years (3-5), leaving age as a secondary consideration of this decision process. This early learning catapults the children forward with language abilities, usually seen in children at academic programs at a private school or in Greece.
By the time these kids get into their early teen years, this fast and cultivated pace, provides a great advantage and sets them apart from other Greek schools. “It prepares them for advanced learning of the Greek language and or makes up for possible lost ground in the future where programs slow-down”, says Pantelides.
Pantelides passion for performance is apparent in conversation. “Get involved with your kids work now”. Make the early effort the same that you would as if they were getting an American education”. The long term goals will be gratifying and evident over time”, says Pantelides.
It’s also more important now than ever. Every ten years or so dramatic changes in ability become evident with the diaspora community. They understand less and less Greek. “Many of my former students are now parents and want to teach their kids the language and history. But it’s apparent, that the language isn’t spoken as much in the household from one generation to the next”, says Pantelides. This shifts the language ability definition from Greek as a secondary language to teaching it as a foreign language.
“Before, kids from immigrant families and diaspora Greeks had a functional understanding when they came to Greek schools. Today, more than ⅔ of the kids are coming in with no background”, says Pantelides. This is a significant change that is redefining the starting point and how we must pace children to get them on par with understanding and using the Greek language.
Because teaching Greek language each year becomes more and more challenging, the Academy of Aristotle at St. George Greek Orthodox church continues to look for more innovative ways.
It is constantly working at ways to reach the kids. They are always reviewing the latest techniques and incorporating more tools and technology when needed. Walking around from classroom to classroom, we saw teachers working in all manners, including traditional writing and drawing techniques, to singing and dancing. Chalkboards and reading books were present as well.
But in several locations we saw teachers huddled in small groups implementing computers programs for the learning process. There, the older kids (6th, 7th, 8th grades) worked more independently and interacted in what appeared to be a more social environment. Diverse teaching techniques at the Academy were apparent.
“When it’s all said and done, we have to invest the time both in school and at home”, says Pantelides. Interacting with computers and social media tools are all part of the future of learning and we have to keep pace if we want to preserve our language and culture outside of Greece.
The Academy has been around for 23 years now. First in Upper Darby, where it positioned itself as an independent school for thirteen years. There, it gained attention for its rigorous and focused program. The past eleven years it has contracted a relationship with St. George Greek Orthodox church, where it continues to grow. It is sought after by parents for its focus on the future and technology, as well as its dedication early learning.