By Dr. Anastasios Koularmanis*
Greek parochial education in America has a long tradition dating back to the late 19th century. From the earliest days of Greek immigration, Greek American communities recognized the importance of preserving their Greek Orthodox heritage and faith, leading to the establishment of Greek language schools in conjunction with their parish churches. These schools have always aimed to instill in young people the values and traditions of Greek Orthodoxy, thereby forming knowledgeable and responsible members of the Greek Orthodox Church.
The establishment of Greek schools in America accelerated in the early 20th century, marking a significant milestone in Greek-American education. In 1905, the Greek Institution of Chicago-Hellenicism became the first Greek day school, providing primary and secondary education. Subsequently, more Greek schools sprang up in Chicago, offering bilingual English and Greek programs or focusing exclusively on the Greek language. While many Greek-American children attended public schools, they also participated in afternoon and Saturday schools to deepen their knowledge of the Greek Orthodox faith, language, and culture.
Recognizing the need for centralized Greek education in the United States, Archbishop Athenagoras took an important step in founding the Supreme Council of Education in 1931. This council aimed to establish standardized curricula, coordinate the teaching staff and to create a uniform education system in Greek schools. By 1935, there were 414 afternoon and five-day schools across America, serving the growing Greek immigrant population.
To further strengthen Greek education in the United States, specific goals have been set to improve the system. These goals included developing a standardized curriculum, organizing a coordinated teaching staff, implementing a reward structure for teachers, increasing the number of Greek schools, and collection of statistics for evaluation. Efforts to strengthen Greek education were boosted by the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which facilitated the entry of significant numbers of Greek immigrants into the country. Bilingual programs were created, allowing Greek-American children to learn the language in the high school setting.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese played a central role in the creation and development of Greek-American parish schools. Under the leadership of Archbishop Iakovos, ambitious plans were implemented to improve Greek education. These initiatives included improving religious education programs, creating scouting programs, and accrediting Hellenic College’s Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theology School.
St. Basil’s Academy is a notable institution that has undergone significant transformations under the leadership of Archbishop Iakovos. Originally serving as a teacher training school for teaching the Greek language, the academy grew with financial support from various Greek-American organizations. It has since become a state-certified children’s residential center, serving as the premier institution for Greek education in the United States.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese’s Office of Education has also played a crucial role in supporting Greek schools and programs. This office provides professional development opportunities, instructional guidelines, and supplies to teachers. The Archdiocesan Department of Greek Education aims to impart to young people the spiritual, moral and cultural values of Greek Orthodoxy while teaching modern Greek language, history and culture.
Parochial Greek day schools and afternoon schools continue to occupy a vital place in Greek education in the United States. About 350 parishes offer Greek language schools in the afternoon or Saturday programs, serving approximately 40,000 to 45,000 students. These schools adhere to local and state mandates and often offer preschool, preschool, kindergarten, elementary and secondary programs. Although the teaching of the Greek language, history, culture and elements of the Greek Orthodox religion remains central, there is an increasing emphasis on producing students who are proud of their Greek heritage.
Greek American parochial schools demonstrate the enduring commitment of the Greek American community to preserving its heritage and faith. Through their educational institutions, they ensure that future generations continue to embrace the richness of Greek culture and the values of Greek Orthodoxy, maintaining a strong connection to their roots.
*the Director of the Department of Greek Education will soon share a series of articles focused on Greek education, with a particular focus on highlighting several day schools.
Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America