DENVER – Denver’s Greek community “is a hidden gem,” Natasa Kallergis, Director of the Denver School of Modern Greek told The National Herald.
Denver’s Greeks, Kallergis explains, are “largely comprised of two groups – those whose parents and grandparents moved over in the earlier part of the 20th century and those that moved in the mid-to-late 60s and early 70s. As such there is a mix of first, second, third and fourth generation people – all of whom love and want to sustain the Greek language and culture.
“We are close-knit community,” she continues, “small enough to form deep and meaningful connections, but large enough where if you visit any one of our Greek School sponsored Greek Nights our kefi certainly competes with the best of them.
As for the School – which runs programs for children ages 2-4, students Kindergarden-6th Grade, an Exam Prep program for those taking the Ellinomathia Greek Exam, and a four-section adult program comprising beginners to advanced learners – it enjoys the fortunate dilemma of finding enough space to fit all the students!
Our Greek School is affiliated with the Assumption Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Denver,” she continues. We are projecting 160 students for the 2015-2016 school year. We have a paid staff and are financially self-sustaining, through tuition and numerous annual fundraisers and are not subsidized by the church other than use of the classroom facilities.
“We currently share facilities with the Assumption Cathedral Sunday School program. We are very fortunate that both our programs have grown so much so that in recent years that we have outgrown our facilities. With the support and encouragement of our Parish Council and the Denver community, we have established a comprehensive building plan and are in the midst of a capital campaign to fund a remodel of our current facilities and an expansion for additional classrooms. We hope that our expanded facilities will even enable us to establish a day school in the near future,” she adds.
So, what is the secret of the Denver’s School’s success?
“Our success lies in the relational trust and strong support between our school, the Denver Metropolis, our parish priests, our parish council, the Denver community, and above all, a very strong and involved Greek School Committee that oversees the overall operation of the School,” Kallergis explains. “Strong parent and community ties are critical to our growth and prosperity. The dedication of the program staff is one of the biggest factors of our success. Many are trained educators and or graduates of a Greek university. We have been very selective in choosing a cohesive staff that not only has an expertise in the Greek language, but also collaboratively share a passion for preserving our Greek language and heritage.
Kallergis further elaborates: “together, we embody and preserve many traditional Greek values. We believe that we play an important part in raising the children in our community and genuinely love our students. We guide our students through a wide range of experiences to elicit a lifelong feeling of Greek pride, by understanding who they are as Greeks and Greek Orthodox Christians. On holidays such as Greek Independence Day our entire student body dresses up in traditional costumes and even our youngest students recite Greek poetry and sing traditional songs and hymns before hundreds of people.”
The Denver School goes beyond learning to speak Greek. “Our curriculum not only focuses on the Greek language but Greek history, geography, mythology and studying important figures in our history,” Kallergis points out. “Our close proximity and relationship with the church blurs the lines between our culture, and our religion. This concept builds the church as the center of our students’ lives, where they not only learn the Greek language, but also have the opportunity to participate in many other activities that form close relationships with other Greek children. We are successful because we believe in what we do.”
Kallergis was born and raised in Denver and is a product of the Denver School. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Argos in Greece. “Growing up, my parents consistently fueled my pride in being Greek and stressed the importance of learning the language and participating in church services regularly, even when in college,” she told TNH. “I vividly remember sitting at my desk in ‘American School’ and being notified over the loudspeaker that my mother was there to pick me up early. I was being picked up to study for my Greek School exams taking place later that day.”
Kallergis studied Psychology and Education at Colorado State University and the University of CoIorado. “I hold a teaching license in Colorado. In addition to directing the Greek School program, I also work for one of the largest school districts in the state coordinating gifted education and advanced learning programs. I started teaching at the Greek School in 2001 and was asked to co-direct the program in 2006. In 2009 I became sole director.
“During my tenure as Director, Kallergis says, “our Greek School has grown from 36 students to where we are now. My husband and I have four young boys who all enjoy learning Greek at the Denver School of Modern Greek.
Her message to TNH readers across the country about the Greeks of Denver is that “we have certainly done our part to preserve our “Greek-ness” here in Denver. Greeks are known to be among the hardest working and most successful ethnic groups in the country…and the Denver Greek community is certainly no exception.”