“I was born in Greece,” she said. “I moved here when I was 4 years old.”
She grew up speaking English. But she can teach Greek because she attended St. Vasilios.
“All my reading and writing, I learned here,” she said.
Today, she uses the language — and sometimes English — to teach Greek history, dance and music. And food.
It isn’t always easy.
“Greek is a very difficult language to learn,” she said. “We have our own alphabet. But the kids take it very seriously. They learn when we sing our songs.”
Students quickly catch the excitement of their teachers. St. Vasilios teaches up to 55 kids, from pre-kindergarten to grade six, three times a week from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Tuition varies, $100 for the younger kids, $300 for kindergarten to grade six, with a $500 maximum per family.
And students come from as far away as Hamilton and Wakefield to attend. Christoforos marvels at grade-schoolers speaking conversational Greek even while their moms and dads can’t. More than that, she’s been approached by delighted parents who tell her, “My kids want to come to school.”
Dragonas is an expert on language who was the director of foreign languages in the Melrose Public Schools. She speaks English, Greek, French, Spanish and German. She points to the percentage of English words with a Greek derivation, 65 percent by her reckoning with math and the sciences particularly affected. Thus, learning to speak modern, conversational Greek not only broadens the experience of young people — it helps them communicate better in their own language.
Greece might seem further behind than ever — a lot of the families, “about 50 percent,” according to Dragonas, include parents with ethnic backgrounds other than Greek. To help retain skill with the language, the school offers a curriculum involving the “total immersion experience just like the public schools.”