Greek Orthodox preschool is back in the City of Chicago.
If you live in the city of Chicago, you’ve likely noticed the lack of Greek preschools in the city. Over the last several years, two well-known schools shut down, leaving no options for a Greek Orthodox, family and faith-oriented preschool program — until now. A wonderful new school has opened at St. George Greek Orthodox Church, bringing Greek Orthodox preschool back to Chicago.
Why start a school?
Seeing an opportunity to establish a city-based Greek Orthodox early learning program, the St. George community mobilized, to provide a unique educational experience to these children, to build a solid foundation for their future academic success, and to root them in the faith and heritage.
“We started the school because it’s important for the preservation of Hellenism and Orthodoxy in the US. Education is vital. Plus, these kids are now here in the church building every day. They see the priest, go to church, engage with the youth director, and develop friendships with other kids like themselves. Now, they come to church on Sundays, they attend youth programs like Hope and Joy. This ministry makes church an integral part of their lives and gives them a relationship with the priest. These kids are the future. We need to ground them in the faith and in our heritage, now,” explained Father Chrysanthos Kerkeres, Presiding Priest at St. George.
Opening St.George Preschool is in keeping with the vision that Father Chris and the parish council set when he was assigned to the parish last year: create a program for every single age group in the community, and begin a progression from one program to another as people age.
“From Little Angels, it’s on to preschool, and God-willing, next year preK; to Sunday School, Greek School, Hope, Joy, YAL, and on to adult programs. It’s all connecting our vision — we are one community, one family,” said Father Chris.
A year of planning
With the vision set, the community began making strides toward restructuring and rebuilding, as well as making St.George Preschool a reality.
“Our entire community banded together. They not only laid the groundwork for the school, but also, began initiatives to repair our church’s crumbling infrastructure (the building was erected in the late 1800s). Since that time, the parish has gone from a handful of families to 350 — all dedicated to the vision. There’s something special going on here. Everyone is energized and wants to be a part of the growth,” Father Chris added.
Last year, the upstairs classrooms got a much-needed makeover. The floors were redone, and skylights were installed to bring natural light into the dark classrooms. (Ed.note: Read more about what’s happening at St. George next week!)
Principal/Teacher Peggy Kontos
St. George Preschool didn’t have to look far for a caring and compassionate teacher. Some of the parishioners knew Peggy Kontos, preK teacher, and director at the now-defunct St. Demetrios Solon Morning Program.
“It is so great to see everyone in the community working together as a team, and with the additional support of the Ladies’ Educational Society, we are in a great place. I’m thrilled to be part of this school. It was greatly needed,” said Peggy.
Off to a great start
To date, eight students are enrolled. Plans are already in progress to expand add preK next year.
“Running a school in Lincoln Park comes with a high set of expectations. But the parents are thrilled and are praising the school and spreading the word,” Father Chris stated.
It’s all happened through word-of-mouth. Everyone’s talking up the program and parents are already planning for next year’s enrollment.
St.George Preschool’s curriculum initiatives have been set around a multi-faceted goal.
“Our goal is to enrich the lives of our students with the opportunity for all the students to enhance children’s development in Faith, Greek language, History, Culture. The Greek language forms an integral part of cultural identity. Our students develop cultural awareness, appreciate our cultural traditions, build their self-esteem, feel happy, and above all proud to be Greek-American,” said Peggy.
Monthly themes are the basis for the curriculum. For example, the month of September was Back to School/All About Me/Colors/Shapes/Safety. Lessons in Greek and English are built around the month’s themes. The school employs a play-based, hands-on philosophy, and incorporate the themes accordingly. A teaching assistant helps support Peggy and the students.
Emphasis on Greek Language and Orthodox Faith
Students learn Greek from 9:00 am – 12:00 pm. The lessons center on learning letters, vocabulary, conversation, and more. The pastoral assistant, Anthony Ruggerio, or Father Chris teaches religion. The kids also attend church and receive communion, plus they learn about their heritage. In October, they learned about OXI Day and performed songs after the Divine Liturgy at church.
“The kids are so excited about learning Greek, they go home and speak to their parents in Greek. We’ve heard several non-Greek parents are signing up for adult Greek classes, so they can foster their child’s language development at home,” shared Peggy.
From 1:00-2:30 pm, the lessons are in English. Kids also attend gym and music classes, and an art class is coming soon. Aftercare is available.
All in a loving, nurturing environment
In addition to the benefits of Greek language and faith instruction, is something important to every parent — their children are safe and secure and nurtured in a loving, caring environment.
“At St. George Preschool, we believe it is important to promote and provide a loving, healthy and secure environment to young children, so they can experience a balanced, holistic personal development. Through an appropriate learning environment and curriculum, the children can individually explore and achieve their potential physically, socially, emotionally, intellectually, aesthetically, linguistically and spiritually. Our mission is to promote a spherical education and focus on the spiritual, intellectual, social, emotional and physical development of each individual child,” Peggy expressed.
A precursor to the Philoptochos Society was the Ladies Educational Society. St. George is blessed to have both of these groups. Ladies Ed is focused on the youth and education initiatives of the church, similar to a PTA. The members are of all ages, and this program helps keep them connected to the kids, and gives them a role in sowing the seeds for the future of their parish, and ultimately, our heritage and faith. Ladies Ed supports the initiatives of the preschool. Parents are joining as a way to get more involved, and give back.
“Everyone sees this as ‘their school’. Ladies Ed hosted a fall brunch to benefit the school. Whatever we need, we know we can count on them,” Peggy said.
Community dedicated to the school
The entire St. George community is dedicated to the fledgling preschool.
“This is an important service we provide for the kids. It’s so important, that we don’t care if we lose money. These kids are the future — our future,” said Father Chris.