NEW YORK – The Direct Archdiocesan District Office of Education, whose director is Mary Makedon, and the schools of the Cathedral of St. Demetrios – Anastasios Koularmanis is their supervising principal – presented one of Greece’s top educators, Dr. Chryse Hatzichristou on February 22. Her lecture was titled, “Strengthening the emotional support for children and fostering positive climates in schools and families.”
Dr. Hatzichristou introduced Connecting for Caring, “an innovative multilevel project of prevention, awareness building, training and intervention,” for which she is the project director. It was designed by the Society for School & Family Consultation and Research and the Centre for Research and Practice in School Psychology of the University of Athens, which is supported with grants from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
The innovative programs, such as We Care, that Hatzichristou has developed, serve a dual purpose: integrating the work of teachers, school psychiatrists and parents in helping children reach their potential – especially backing up families under socioeconomic stress during the Greek crisis – and to establish links between educators and students across the diaspora through their joints participation in activities. They believe their work constitutes an important bridge between Greece and Hellenic communities around the world.
The programs are based on scientific research on the interconnectedness of personal development and learning.
Maria Makedon introduced Hatzichristou, Professor of School Psychology. Department of Psychology, School of Philosophy, University of Athens. She has completed graduate studies at Harvard University, University of California, Berkeley, and the Max Planck Institute in Berlin and she is also Co-chair of the Committee on International Relations om Psychology of the American Psychological Association (APA). She recently made a presentation in Washington, DC about the programs at the convention of the International Association of School Psychologists.
Dr. Hatzichristou explained that teachers learn techniques that improve learning generally, but are especially valuable for children undergoing difficulties of any kind.
The goal is to engender psychological resilience and foster social and emotional skills and Dr. Hatzichristou said that when family life becomes unstable and parents are no longer seen as their shield and defenders, children naturally turn to teachers. The classroom becomes the only safe and stable place in their lives.
Dr. Hatzichristou noted that “teachers are not supermen,” but the program enables teachers to create a space and time to express themselves and ask questions.
Teachers learn how to help children better face their difficulties by supporting the good factors in their lives, but she emphasized that working with parents is an important element “They know the children much better than we do.”
Regarding helping struggling children, she noted the recent paradigm shift in among educators from “it’s the child’s fault, or, the child has a problem” to taking a more systemic perspective and looking closely at classroom and family dynamics.
They emphasize the “two C’s” whose importance has emerged from research in the United States: “Children want to feel competent and connected,” and research also notes the importance of teacher being supportive.
COMMUNICATION IS THE KEY
In order to help the students, however, the teachers must know what is going on. The programs’ practical principle could be “If you talk to them, they will tell you.”
“With communication, children can be helped to solve their own problems,” such those in their relationships with their peers and siblings. Dr. Hatzichristou said.
She gave examples statements by children that show they will tell teachers or school psychologists everything: “I am intelligent, but lazy.” “I am a good girl. I am not a good student, but I try. “I feel stupid, ugly and worthless because that is how they treat me. ‘
The programs taps into the fact that children can convey their feelings and concerns verbally and visually.
“WE CARE” PROGRAM CONNECTS GREEK CLASSROOMS WORLDWIDE
The program that is being implanted in places like the St. Demetrios schools is called “We Care.”
Anna Zalokostas is a graduate student at Queens College who teaches Sunday School at St. Athanasios in Paramus, NJ. She is part of Dr. Hatzichristou’s research team and is helping to present the program to area schools. “I presented it to Mr. Koularmanis last year and he was very enthusiastic about bringing it to St. Demetrios,” she said.
Two staffers, art teacher Ariadni Veziroglou and literature teacher Augustinos Sicopoulos, have taken the lead but all the teachers are being trained through publications and participation in online forums.
The children are engaged through a game called Sailing for Caring, whose frame of reference is the journey of Odysseus from one island to another. It is also the means by which they connect with Greek children in Greece, Cyprus, Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Canada, Norway and Switzerland.
Veziroglou gave an example of a project. She told the students to draw trees and said the trees are metaphors for their hearts, and they were told to connect things that are good and bad for the trees. like water, with analogous elements in the heart, or emotional life, of the child.
One 4th grader noted on her drawing: “The sun is forgiveness…worms are hatred…violence is like fire…fruits are joy.”
The program’s different modules include: 1) examining the social values, 2) what are the positive elements in the classroom and what should be changed, 3) confronting difficult feelings such as anger and social isolation, 4) facing anxiety and 5) diversity.
The work is a tribute to the power of the internet to connect individuals and communities and disseminate the latest knowledge and methods.
Dr. Hatzichristou told TNH it was very important to be able to meet with Greek-American educators – more than forty people attended from throughout the New York Metropolitan Area. One of her aims is to build an international network of support for educators.
The Dean of the Cathedral of St. Demetrios, Very Rev. Nektarios Papazafiropoulos and Timoleon Kokkinos, the principle of St. Demetrios’ afternoon Greek was present.
Christos Tripoulas, Assistant Adjunct Professor at St. John’s University, and TNH columnist said “It was a very useful and informative presentation…It broadened out horizons and it dealt with issues that are central to the educational process, like the emotional state of the students.”
He said the methods help teachers transmit knowledge in a way that is not only effective academically but which will help prepare them for life…because the children are not just spectators but are active participants.
For more information in Greek and English visit: connecting4caring.gr