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Culture

Joanne Kefalas: Children’s Book Author, Community Pre-School Pioneer

 

GREENLAWN, NY – It’s an old rule in the Greek-American community: If you complain about something, be prepared to be assigned to fix it.

When educator Joanne Karapidis Kefalas gave up her tenure  to raise her three boys, Gabriel, Argyri, and Yiannis, she thought it was a shame that there was no pre-school for them at her parish.

When Gabriel was born she told St. Paraskevi’s pastor Father Demetrios Moraitis that the parish should have a pre-school program. His response was “you do it.”

She gulped and agreed and after beginning with 10 students eight years ago she is now the director of a full-fledged program with a Mommy and Me section and classes for three, four, and five year olds. Regular Greek school then begins a first grade.

It is a bilingual program – everyone takes classes in both English and Greek and there is also a soccer program with a Greek coach.

In Mommy and Me mothers bring babies from the time they are newborn until they are two years old and they stay in the classroom with the teachers.

“We sing nursery rhymes and read books and tell stories…the kids play with puppets, and they speak mostly Greek.”

Teachers are paid and they are recruited among educators like Kefalas, who decided to return home to raise their children but now that they are grown want to work again.

In the beginning the parish provided her team with $750 in seed money and the program has been self-sustaining ever since.

There is no formal board, but everybody helps and recently funds were raised for a state-of-the-art playground.

Kefalas was born in Jamaica and her family moved to Plainview when she was one.

Her father Gabriel, who is from Veria, and her mother Mary, who has roots in Kalavryta, instilled in her a powerful devotion to Hellenism and education.

Her father was very involved at St. Paraskevi. “He was president of the Greek school board and was active with AHEPA. He also served as chairman of the Greek parade on Fifth Avenue,” she said with pride.

A furrier, her father died young but Kefalas continues his legacy of service to Hellenism and the community.

She began her career teaching Kindergarten at the William Spyropoulos School and after earning a master’s she went to the Syosset public school system. When she earned a second Masters in reading comprehension she moved to the Levittown system, at which point she began to write children’s books.

The books incorporate all the techniques she developed as a teacher to boost children’s reading ability, but she told TNH “I like also add some Greek flavoring.”

She turned her experiences growing up into teachable moments for today’s children, but with her own children as the characters.

On the First Day of School tells a story about children named Dean and George, but it is really about her and her sister Helen, to whom the book is dedicated.

Why Am I Afraid at Night talks about her Kefalas’ friend Yianni, but again it is about her childhood and what her Yiayia Aikaterini said and did to help her overcome her fears of the dark.

“I go to a lot of schools and read my stories and it is heartwarming to see children relate to them.”

Kefalas has a blog http://bringinggreekhome.blogspot.com/  that covers many issues related to Hellenism and Orthodoxy.

She is very excited about her next book, titled The Greek Children’s Cookbook.

“The recipes are easy enough for children…I use them with my kids all the time. They can make souvlaki, there is an easy avgolemono, a Greek pizza, a horiatiki salad, and orange tourta, keftedes and biftekia, and a vasilopita.”

Kefalas even modified recipes for spinach and cheese pies and a fanouropita.

She may become known as the godmother of the next generation of community restaurateurs.

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