Michael got off the bus Tuesday afternoon and said, “I need to learn Greek, like, right now.” He was smiling as he said it, so that seemed ok, but he looked a little fried. Peter said, “my day was awesome, it was someone’s birthday so we had cake before we got on the bus. It was pink cake but it was still good. I also remembered the name of my other friend – it’s DEMETRI!” We changed clothes and went to Vouliagmeni beach to decompress and blow off steam.
I had written a note Monday night to Michael’s teacher and put it in the ‘correspondence’ envelope asking for an appointment to meet her and talk about 2nd grade. Michael wasn’t sure where to put his books and notebooks, he didn’t know where the bathrooms were or how to ask permission to go, so I thought we could cover all of those things in a quick meeting. Michael also said that he did a little math, but for the rest of the work he didn’t have to do because he didn’t know Greek. That was a red flag. He said he did his own thing on the playground because his friend from the day before played with his other friends. Oh dear. We had our family meeting that night and listed our bubble up and bubble down for the day (the best & worst thing that happened – an Aspen tradition we learned in kinder), and Michael’s bubble down was his lack of understanding of the language, but his bubble up was that he perfected something on the monkey bars. So in all not bad, but I didn’t think so in the moment. I was freaking out (shocker).
Wednesday morning I wrote a note to the school admin with a list of questions – some were logistics (is there a school calendar? Is there a uniform for swimming?) and asked for a meeting with Michael’s teacher. She called around noon and asked if we could come to school the following day and meet with the teacher and the head of school and her to go over everything. Bubble ups and downs that night were not school related – which seemed like an okay sign. We had individual family meetings that night and Demetri asked a lot of brilliant yet gentle pointed questions and the answers were just fine and the boys were ok. Not just ok, but normal and happy. And, they think the bus is super cool. We went to the park.
We were greeted Thursday by one of the admin staff who is a translator (Kyria Eirini). We sat down with her, Michael’s teacher (Kyria Mimika) and a tutor (Kyria Elena). “Kiria” = lady, madam, Mrs., Ms.. What was very encouraging was that they recognized the same issues we did, and they want to help Michael do his best there, and obviously the language barrier makes it extremely difficult for him to learn and Kyria Mimika to teach. Their proposal was to have Michael work with Kyria Elena for about three hours a day for one-on-one Greek glossa work (i.e., language arts – reading, writing, spelling) and then spend the other classes – science, drama, music, art, gym, swimming – with his class. For math, they proposed that Michael would do the homework in school with Kyria Mimika and only do about half what the others were doing. Their reason was that because of his lack of language, the math theory would not sink in. We asked that we try having him have all the math homework and we can re-evaluate later if it’s too much, and oh by the way we have a native speaker at home (Papou) who can help him with both math and Greek homework. They were pleased and I think a bit relieved to know about Papou, and so they agreed. Kyria Elena will work with Michael to start at the beginning (alphabet, letter sounds, spelling, etc.) and she feels confident that by Christmas, he will be ready to fully rejoin the class and pick up where they are. We asked whether, instead of swimming, Michael should use that hour to work with Kyria Elena, and she said, “No. He is little. He needs breaks and fun. We are going to do fine.”
Demetri was such a statesman during the meeting. He thanked them and said that we were told in the summer that a plan like this might happen, and that we were so thankful that they worked quickly to figure this out. After all, it was the 4th day of school not the 4th week. We were very encouraged and could tell that they’d been working on this for a day or two already, so we were all on the same page or at least close. I wasn’t a statesman so much; every time I opened my mouth I had tears in my eyes and a cracked voice. I stopped trying to talk and just took notes after that.
Michael came home Friday afternoon announcing he “crushed it in Greek class today.” He learned the word for ball, bite & duck, and he told me that I am wrong when I say “Έλα” (ella — come) and I need to say a different word (“Έλαti”) if I’m telling more than one person to come. (Score!) We have homework in Math and Greek. Papou is gone til Sunday, so the boys get to do what they like today.
Peter’s story is a little different and not as challenging. I think his teacher, Kyria Anna, speaks a lot of English to him. He has also deputized himself the English teacher when Kyria Eleni, the kindergarten English teacher, isn’t there. Kyria Anna has a puppet monkey as her assistant; Peter has a puppet lion as his. So, regardless of how much Greek Peter learns, he’ll make darn sure the other kids learn English.
In reality, he’s of course going to learn a ton of Greek. His situation is lower pressure – he’s in the perfect spot to learn letters, sounds, numbers and begin to read. We always figured that if he needed to do kinder again in CO, no big deal. He has a late August birthday so he might need more time emotionally but also for reading and writing in English. His first week was a lot of talking and meeting and and social-emotional – this is the first time that a lot of his classmates have ever been in school. He told me about a book they read about a turtle who had to go to kindergarten and didn’t want to and his parents made him go but that at the end of the book the turtle was happy. His Friday announcement was that he ‘created’ a girlfriend that day. He hasn’t played with her yet but he did comment on her improved table manners. He has homework also. Papou might have a busy afternoon tomorrow.
So guess what? Kids ARE adaptable. New stuff takes time. We knew this would be hard. We tell the boys that what they’re doing isn’t easy and that they’re brave for trying and for being themselves as they do and how proud we are of them and how proud they should be of themselves. Michael told me last night as I was tucking him in that he’s been nervous all summer, but he’s ok now.
I’ve thought a lot this week about parents who move to the US and don’t know the language and can’t fill out forms, read school emails or talk to their child’s teacher. I wonder if they have google translate (which is mostly ok but can be quite goofy) or someone to help. I’m sure they feel excluded when other parents don’t talk to them at school events or in the halls. I’m so grateful to my mom-pals and everyone who made us feel welcome at our various new schools. One of my closest friends came up to me during Michael’s first week of kindergarten and said, “Hi. are you new?” I recall a family from Michael’s Pre-K class who moved from Argentina to Denver. The mom told me once in the hall that she didn’t come to the meetings and parties because she couldn’t understand the slang the parents use and she didn’t understand what the teachers are saying (back to school night, for example), so her husband goes. I hope we made them feel comfortable and greeted them with friendly faces. I remember seeing that sweet little girl holding hands with other girls within a couple of weeks. At the time, her older sister was in second grade.
I registered for Greek school myself. It starts 2 October.