“We are a group of parents of Greek speaking children who are trying to establish a Greek-English dual language program in NYC Public Schools. I joined this initiative as a parent who has raised 4 bilingual children in New York City. I spent much of my energy in parenthood ensuring that one of the most valuable assets I could naturally offer to my children, my language, will not be lost but be developed and incorporated into their educational culture and enrich their personality. I had to do this against the systemic English-only approach.
Dual-language programs came to solve this for the new generations. In our ethnic community, in almost every family, Greek is spoken in the house and many children speak the language fluently before they start school. There are also many newcomer families who arrive from Greece every year due to the economic crisis in Greece, and increase the presence of the Greek language in New York.
However, as much as a program like this is craved and needed, there isn’t a large enough number of Greek speaking families concentrated in the same school zone to initiate the program – instead, they are mostly dispersed within Queens county.
In recent years, many Greek families have moved to the suburbs and newcomers tend to live close to relatives and friends that they already know. Facing uncertainty and the fear of “not being good enough,” they are pushing for immersion in English and assimilation. Therefore, Greek speaking children understand some English, which most often disqualifies them, as English learners, to initiate the program. Furthermore, the Greek Church already operates day schools and after-school programs with tuition that can be pretty expensive. Unfortunately, this causes some to wrongly perceive us as antagonists and can drive away some support from the community.
This initiative started in the fall – We created our website, social media group and nearly 2 thousand people joined. We uploaded an interest contact form and nearly 200 families filled it out. We spoke with other groups who started their own programs and gathered solidarity and advice. We spoke with Fabrice Jaumont who gave us valuable insights, advice and guidance and encouraged us to continue pursuing the Greek dual language program. We gathered support from community organisations, district politicians, cultural foundations, and university departments of Greek studies.
What drives us most to continue is the interest of the Greek-speaking families and their support – and we are especially motivated for those who need it most. It seems we have a long road yet ahead of us but we plan to not give up. We are convinced this is good for the community, good for the families, good for the children’s education, good for America and good for the world.
We advise anyone who wants to start a DLP program to not omit speaking with Fabrice Jaumont. They must gather as much support as they can from their community and the families, speak with families directly and explain the benefits of a program like this. Make sure to speak with other groups who started their own program and learn from what they had to face and how they resolved the issues they encountered.
A Greek Dual Language Program will allow Greek speaking children to develop their first language in a Public School setting within their broader school community, while giving their classmates the cultural enrichment and expanding their knowledge in many new ways.”
–Katya Nicolaou, Greek Dual Language Program
“Few only options exist for Greek-Americans and Greek expatriate families in New York City with regards to affordable, all-day Greek language instruction for public school kids. Besides a few private educational institution with high tuition fees, and some charter schools where Greek is taught as a second language for only a few hours a week, there are no other Greek-English, all day programs based in public schools. Such programs exist however for many other languages, such as Spanish, Chinese, French, Russian, Arabic, Bengali, Haitian, Creole etc.
One will certainly consider this somewhat ironic, given the large size of the Greek American community in New York City, and notions like “sophia” (wisdom), “paideia” (education) and a plethora of other lexical loans from the Greek to our common English phraseology!
In November 2017, three parents from the City initiated an effort to establish such a program for Greek too. Among them two moms, Natassa Romanou, a climate scientist at Columbia University and Katya Nicolaou a sociologist from Hunter College, and a dad, Andonis Liamis, web designer. All have kids in public schools and all of them are of Greek descent. Pure New York, grass-root, parent activism!
Following the roadmap outlined in Fabrice Jaumont’s excellent book “The Bilingual Revolution”, we –-the parents— conducted outreach to the Greek communities. We talked to parents we know, we went to community gatherings, we organized our own parent get-togethers. We setup a website (https://greekdualny.org/) and a Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/902158496607324/ which has gathered 1700+ members to date. We also created an online questionnaire http://www.123formbuilder.com/form-3154242/Dual-Language-Public-School-Program to survey the features and geographic distribution of interested families with young school-age children. More than 100 such families responded. Still, we feel, we have not canvassed the majority of the Greek-American community, especially the families of second and third generation Greeks, the most recent immigrants, or the residents in Bronx and Manhattan. This is probably the biggest hurdle we are facing: getting the word out.
There are a lot of misconceptions and perhaps some misinformation about the dual–language program run by the Department of Education (DOE) in New York City. It is often confused or mistaken with the English as Second Language (ESL) program where elementary school children are taught to progressively abandon their mother tongue in favor of English. Therefore a lot of our effort focuses on clarifying the purpose and utility of the dual-language program, which aims to develop both languages equally, as well as on explaining DOE’s support and engagement. Much to our amazement, there are many public school teachers, principals and of course families who are unaware of these programs, and their success in our City’s educational system over the last 15 years.
In addition to reaching out to families, we have engaged prominent political, educational, and economic Hellenic organizations. NY State Assembly woman, Aravella Simotas, and Astoria Council member, Costa Constandinidis, have wholeheartedly expressed their support and offered us invaluable information and advice. AHEPA, the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, a prominent organization of Greek-Americans, has officially endorsed this effort. The Onassis and the Niarchos Foundations, pillars of philanthropy and community service, have indicated that launching this successful program would most likely encourage them to support and expand the resources provided by DOE, to provide for better books, online access and tools, teacher professional development, enrichment programs, afterschool activities etc. Modern Greek language programs at Columbia University, New York University and Queens College have also enthusiastically volunteered to contribute to this effort at a later stage when curricula and teacher training are required. Lastly, we have done a few radio (https://soundcloud.com/cosmos-fm-new-york/live-sunday-02-04-18 minutes 3:05–3:34) and newspaper interviews https://www.greeknewsonline.com/ta-diglossa-dimosia-ellino-anglika-scholia-boroun-na-ginoun-syntoma-pragmatikotita/ which further increased our visibility in the community.
Our outreach efforts though are far from over. Although, presently Astoria and some other school districts in Queens emerge as those with peak demand for a Greek-English dual language program, we will continue to campaign in other boroughs and neighborhoods in the City. At the same time, we are in the process of contacting elementary school principals to identify the facility that will host the program.
We aim to launch this program for the 2019-2020 academic year. Speaking on behalf of the volunteer parents Katya, Andonis and myself but also the many others who participate in big or small ways, I believe I am right to say that all of us view this effort as service to our kids and our community, the Greek-American community, particularly the many underserved families who long for their children to continue speaking and learning Greek but do not have the means to access distant and/or expensive schools. At the same time, our efforts, we think, will benefit the non-Greek population who lives in underserved communities and would love for their children to learn a different language. We believe that children who grow up speaking and writing bilingual, and who today do not just acknowledge but also embrace and expand the culture of their ancestors, will be better citizens tomorrow. Their parents will participate more and meaningfully in their kids’ school life and that alone will raise achievement and success standards. We are convinced that these schools will promote integration –not assimilation– and will help bring cultures, races and nations closer together through deeper understanding of the customs, the history, the literature, the culture.
Early in this journey, the book Bilingual Revolution and some very inspiring and informative discussions with its author, Fabrice Jaumont, played a key role in launching this effort. The roadmap outlined in the book is Ariadne’s thread that guides us through the labyrinth of the educational system in our great, multicultural, multilingual city, the City of New York.”
–Anastasia (Natassa) Romanou, Greek Dual Language Program
“I am part of a grassroots group of parents, educators, and advocates who would like to help start San Francisco’s first three-language immersion program in Spanish, English and French. One of the main hurdles is getting all of the key stakeholders to sit down at the decision-making table. Another challenge is keeping everyone motivated. Our successes include gaining the support of a local school principal, members of our school board, and district supervisors; becoming a fiscally sponsored project of the San Francisco Study Center; and raising funds from amazing businesses. We remain committed to turning our vision into reality because it’s good for the children, it’s good for our community, and it’s good for our city. I would encourage anyone who wants to start a DLP to realize that it’s a marathon. There are no quick fixes, so persistence, I believe, will pay off in the end. The Bilingual Revolution is an amazing book that contains everything you need to feel confident in pursuing a DLP, from the history of bilingual education and the benefits it brings to children, to offering real-world examples of DLP pioneers as well as a step-by-step action plan for achieving your goals.”
–Schauleh Sahba, French and Spanish Dual Language Program