The Hellenic American Academy will celebrate its new home, and its continued pursuit of excellence, at its 7th annual gala, this February 25.
Hellenic American Academy continues a long tradition
The Hellenic American Academy (HAA) was founded in 2004, but its roots run much deeper. Under HAA’s umbrella is Socrates Hellenic American School. Founded in 1907, Socrates was the very first Greek Day School in the U.S. This legacy, and a steadfast commitment to excellence, propel HAA into the future.
History of Socrates School
Holy Trinity Hellenic Orthodox Church was the first parish in the Midwest, founded in 1897. Socrates, the very first Greek school in the area, was founded at this historic parish. Their goal was to foster the education of Greek language and heritage in America, while honoring and cultivating Orthodox core values.
Socrates School’s first classes were held at Jane Addams Hull House in Chicago, on Sunday afternoons and Wednesday evenings. Full-time classes were introduced in 1908. With the integration of an English curriculum, Socrates School became Socrates Hellenic American School. They offered classes for Kindergarten through 6th grade, and operated at 742 S. Ada Street in Chicago, in The Delta — Chicago’s original Greektown.
In the early 1960s, The Delta was demolished to make way for the University of Illinois at Chicago. Following the migration of families west, the church and school found at home at 6041 W. Diversey Avenue in Chicago. Classes expanded to 8th grade. The neighborhood boasted many Greek residents and shops, but as the area changed, families continued their migration north and west of the city. While the church remains at that location, the school moved temporarily to the Holy Resurrection Cathedral on Chicago’s Northwest side.
Socrates had a long history of academic excellence, but the 21st century, technology, and the changing needs of the newest generation of Greek-Americans required new focus. It was time for the school to begin its next evolution, and Hellenic American Academy was born. Jim Logothetis, HAA’s chairman since its founding in 2004, explained about the school’s mission.
“From the onset, HAA’s mission was to provide an enhanced curriculum to offer young Greek-Americans the opportunity to excel academically on a national level.”
The school relocated to 1085 Lake Cook Road in Deerfield, IL. After 10 years, the now independent school recently moved to a larger facility in Deerfield, allowing more opportunities for growth.
After the holidays, HAA moved to its new home, a former school building at 445 Pine Street in Deerfield. The facility, set in a residential neighborhood near other schools, sits on a 7.5 acre parcel. The campus includes a baseball field, a playground, garden, and ample space for outdoor education and sports programs. The building also boasts an auditorium, dance studio, gymnastics room, tech lab, science room, and more. The move was made possible by the Foundation for Hellenic Education and Culture. Jim discussed the move, and the foundation’s assistance.
“It was a critical moment for the nation’s oldest Greek school. The reality is, that it’s becoming more and more difficult for churches to support these schools, but they are vital to our Hellenism in America. Plus, the youth need a good, quality education, which has always been a hallmark of the Academy. We are grateful to the Foundation for Hellenic Education and Culture, made up of community leaders, for their incredible support of HAA.”
Foundation Chairman Stavros Basseas explained the group’s plans.
“Our foundation was established as a means to invest in Greek education in this country, and to encourage the support of the entire Greek-American community. Our schools need our support to continue. We want to establish a strong educational pillar here. We’re beginning our work with HAA, and hope to help the other area schools in the near future. We want our schools to thrive, in order to help perpetuate Hellenism in America.This will happen through support of our schools, and we all need to support the schools, not just the students and their families.”
The new building, which is owned by the foundation, can easily serve 200 students. HAA is growing. With 120 students in the day school, and another 220 students in Monday/Wednesday and Saturday Greek language programs, plus cultural programming, the halls of the school are bustling with activity 7 days a week.
Related: Hellenic American Academy opens new Deerfield school building
Greek Education at Hellenic American Academy
The curriculum is rooted in a classic education, and includes Greek language and history. Students even learn math in Greek. Stavros explained why this is important.
“Bilingual function strengthens the cognitive function in children. We’re modeling a successful program at a Florida school, in which students study math in Greek. Their test scores are consistently high, and students perform better across the board. We’d like to see this model adopted in all of our schools.”
About 10-15% of HAA’s students are not Greek — they’re Russian and Serbian. These families appreciate the quality of the educational offering, as well as the bilingual component. Stavros said he considers HAA not just a Greek school, but rather, a “high quality school with a strong bilingual program.” Here, students study Greek 1-½ hours per day. They learn about our rich heritage and culture, and more.
In the school’s chapel, Father Cosmas Halekakis of St. Demetrios Church in Libertyville, IL teaches religion classes. He also celebrates Divine Liturgy, Agiasmos, and other services.
Head of Schools Voula Sellountos spoke about the proficiency level of the students.
“Last year, 50% of the students who participated in the Ellinomatheia Greek language proficiency exam were from the Hellenic American Academy. All of them passed the exams successfully. Our success rate is 100%.”
The school has been recognized by the University of Crete as a model of outstanding Greek language education.
Hellenic American Academy curriculum
The curriculum at HAA is multi-faceted. This year, instructional time was increased ½ hour each day, to accommodate a longer English/Language Arts class, with greater emphasis on writing. In the new STEM lab, students learn about robotics, engineering. They even build models with Legos. Principal Mary Giannetos spoke about technology in the classroom at HAA.
“We prepare our students to go out and succeed through the use of technology and a rigorous curriculum modeled after some of the best public schools in the area.”
Students participate in specials like physical education, art, music, and computer. Students in 1st – 8th grades may participate in the choir. The school offers poetry classes, and a poetry slam will be held in the spring.
The new building was already equipped with a dance studio — complete with mirrors and a ballet barre — and a padded gymnastics room with equipment. After school programs will soon be offered in Greek dance, ballet, and gymnastics (floor exercise). There will even be a soccer team. More sports teams are in the works.
Every Friday, students participate in a book club. The books are selected by the principal. The club is run by the school’s dedicated parents organization.
Voula spoke about plans for the garden.
“We’ll utilize this space for environmental studies. We will teach the children to garden. There’s also a creek running behind the school. We will utilize this in examining nature.”
Students compete successfully
HAA students participate in competitions throughout the year. They’ve performed in the Illinois Junior Academy of Science State Fair. The students were high achievers; last year students competed at the national level.
Students have participated in Illinois EPA competitions, and last year, there were 3 state level winners from HAA. They’ve also performed successful in the Learn Storm, a statewide math competition by Khan Academy. Also, 90% of HAA students meet or exceed state standards in nationalized math and reading tests.
Greek language programs
In addition to the full-time program, HAA offers Greek language instruction on Monday/Wednesday evenings and Saturdays. These programs serve students into high school. Their Greek language curricula are approved by the Greek Ministry of Education and the Illinois Board of Education. Students who attend Greek language classes at the high school level at HAA may receive foreign language credit in their American public high schools.
Over the years, HAA students have participated in the competition to represent the U.S. in the Youth Parliament (Vouli ton Efivon) in Greece. For six years, the winner of the competition was an HAA student. Last year, only one representative was selected from the entire U.S., and the winner was from HAA. This program brings kids from around the world to Greece, where they spend time in Parliament. Students learn the political process, and they vote to enact mock legislation.
In these programs, students learn mythology, history, literature, and more. Voula indicated that Saturday high school students were studying classic Greek tragedies, such as “Antigone” and “Oedipus Rex”. She stressed the importance of studying these works in their original language, as it enhances understanding and overall learning.
Saturday high school students also publish their own newspaper, called “HAArti”. Additionally, for the past 4 years, students have hosted the HAA Radio Show.
Moving Forward in Excellence
HAA remains steadfast in its mission to educate our young people, and refer to it as a the “most noble cause”. Voula reiterated the school’s commitment to students and families, and why they continue to work diligently to make HAA the best it can be, and offer students this unique educational experience. She said that while education is a top priority here, it’s about so much more, and that’s what brings people to HAA.
“It’s about education that’s inspiring; a community that is loving. And values that are cherished and passed on. Ask the parents and they’ll tell you the same. We are a family, and these are what define us.”
The Hellenic American Academy will celebrate their history, their new home, their commitment to excellence, and their bright future, at the 7th annual gala on February 25. The event will take place at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont, IL. Mistress of Ceremonies is Jane Monzures, host of WGN-TV’s “Living Healthy Chicago.” HAA will also honor Heritage Award Recipient Jim Logothetis and Service Award Recipient Jim Vadevoulis. Show your support. And stop by their new home. They’d love to give you a tour.
Updated: This event has already taken place.