As the former President of the American-Hellenic Institute, Miami lawyer Aleco Haralambides had a stake in promoting Hellenism, but says his biggest hope now for his heritage is saving its beloved language, and promoting it not just to fellow Greeks, but Philhellenes and the rest of the world. There are some 50,000 words in English derived in some way or another from Greek, and Haralambides said he wants to make sure their rich history and place are preserved. He helped do it at Archimedean Academy in Miami, a charter school that has Greek as a mandatory subject, and now said he wants to find supporters to start an international foundation to showcase the Greek language and keep it alive outside of Greece.
The formula is working at Archimedean, which now teaches through the high school level and is rated one of Florida’s top schools and successful enough that there’s a waiting list of more than 1,000 students – most not of Greek heritage. Besides instilling self-discipline in students, Archimedean requires them to take classes 2 ½ hours a day in Greek – not just Greek, but other subjects, and it’s a wonderment to see students not from Greek American households conversing in Greek in the corridors and classrooms, and coming to school on Saturdays to participate in projects, a role model for schools around the country. As a charter school, Archimedean doesn’t charge tuition but receives state assistance as a public school open to students who can get in. On Jan. 30, it was rated Florida’s best middle school and praised for using Greek and mathematics – and teaching math in Greek – as one of the reasons for its achievements.
When Archimedean students took a proficiency exam in Greek from Thessaloniki University, 44 of 45 passed, he said. Not one was Greek or Greek American. The school has only 70 students with Greek heritage out of an enrollment of 950. “Using the Archimedean model is a proven way to perpetuate the Greek language,” he said in an interview with Greek Reporter. “When you see native speakers talking Greek to these kids who have no background in Greek and they are processing difficult problems and answering in Greek, there just isn’t anybody else out there doing this,” he said. It’s even more astonishing when you realize the students have had no background at all in Greek or Hellenism.
Now, he said, he hopes to get the word out that the model can work in an international foundation, although he knows how tough it is to get Greek Americans together and behind programs. Still, he said, “Once it’s started and promoted you’d have a lot of non-Greeks supporting this and there’s a potential for partnerships with classics programs,” he said, adding he’d like to see the Archimedean model repeated in other charter schools in Florida and across the country, where children could learn Greek – once a stable of great schools such as Boston Latin Academy, and others where Greek and classics were intertwined. “Our goal is not to have a Greek school necessarily, but to have a great school,” he said.
“They aren’t going to come just to learn Greek. They want it to be a very good school academically,” he said. Some parents are not happy with the rigid format, he acknowledged, but said they were a minority.
Haralambides said with a declining birth rate among Greeks, Greek Americans and those in the Diaspora, the need to save Greek is becoming critical because the language is being spoken less. “It’s a mathematical certainty that if we don’t stop that, that it will disappear,” he said. “One way to promote the Greek language and Hellenism is to open charter schools,” he said. Archimedean is applying from further accreditation and said, if granted, “That will allow us to be accredited as a district, which means if we open a school in Alabama, it will be accredited and recognized by colleges.
Like many Greeks of the United States and Disapora, his passion comes from his heritage. “My grandparents were forced to leave Asian Minor because they wanted to maintain their identity as Greeks and Greek Orthodox Christians. They were willing to give up their entire livelihood to maintain their identity. The least we can do is make an effort to preserve it,” he said.
The school’s Chief Executive Business Officer Dimitri Bardoutsos, said the school will admit another 150 students in the next academic year and there is a clamor to attend because he said parents know the students will get a good education beyond Greek too. The school’s charter is with the Miami Dade County public school administration, to which it reports. Classes begin at kindergarten to groom students young. “Our goal is not just to graduate students but those who can enter colleges at the Ivy League level,” he said. “We pay attention to every individual student. We work with parents and students. This is a school of choice. Parents have to offer 300 volunteer hours a year and are part of the school and the process, and they are working together to improve education.”
The school’s President, Founder, and Chairman of the Board, George Kafkoulis, said, “The reason for the success of the school is the commitment to excellence. The school is based on two very important ideas of Greek civilization: language and the dedication to excellence, the rigorous teaching of mathematics and philosophy.” He said many parents weren’t initially interested in Greek, but wanted their children to have the benefit of a good education, but discovered the benefits of the students learning the language. He said the model can work for other schools to emulate. “This can be replicated … it’s a recipe that works in every environment,” he said. Even the Greek Ministry of Education, he said, is studying Archimedean to see how its methods can be used to teach Greek and other courses.
Haralambides said he’s gotten calls from people in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco, among other areas, who want to open an Archimedean-style academy that prepares students for college and teaches them Greek as well. “We need someone to spearhead it and is committed to spending the time to do it.” Sounds like he may be the best candidate for this.