Upper Darby, PA – One hundred plus students strong and growing at St. Demetrios Greek school. Long regarded as one of the most rigorous Greek academic programs inside the archdiocese, St. Demetrios Greek school opened it’s doors this past Friday.
Classes run on Tuesday and Friday for 2 ½ hours each evening. Language, history, dancing, religion, and culture are all part of this student program. It sounds a bit overwhelming, but this is St. Demetrios, a place that holds Hellenic tradition and values to their highest. When you enter the classrooms, walk the halls and church, it’s obvious, Greek language still dominates in an era where other communities have accepted American culture and English first.
Across the Delaware Valley, other churches opened as well. 12 of the 13 Orthodox parishes in the area that constitute the metropolitan Philadelphia archdiocese have Greek schools. With as few as 14 at some and as many as 140 at St. Thomas Greek School in Cherry Hill, these schools host programs that mostly range between Kindergarten and Eighth grade.
Some, like St. Demetrios Greek, host a Pre-K program as well. “Two years ago we launched our Pre-K initiative, and we’re doing very well,” said new Greek school Principal – Sofia Vlastaridis. The 14 year veteran of Greek education said, “it’s because of our dedication to see these kids preserve their culture. We want to teach and leave them with a memorable experience that will make them proud of who they are”, added Vlastaridis.
Now, with the cultural and generational changes of adapting to a new homeland, churches like St. Demetrios are evolving their thinking as well. They’ve stepped up and added an adult program to cope with mixed marriages. “Couples are trying to get better at communicating, and we’re doing very well with this initiative as well,” said Vlastaridis. Last year’s launch of an adult class had 11 participants. This year, it has grown to 16. Two classes are offered, one for beginners and the other intermediate Greek.
As we toured the classrooms and Vlastaridis showed me the student projects along the halls, she explained, “our goal is to get to 150 students in the coming years. We’re introducing new ideas and strategies”. Minutes later, she excused herself and stepped into her office before reappearing with a traditional handheld bell that she rang while standing in the middle of the hallway. It is signaling the evening break for students. We stood and looked on as students flooded into the hallway and I was reminded, this is a place where tradition and the future of Hellenism in America are at a crossroad.
Enrollment is still open for all classes at St. Demetrios. For those interested, you can contact the Greek school at email@example.com or call and ask for Sophia at 610-352-7212.