Kostas Flegas: Knowledge and expertise combined with determination and persistence keeping a low profile in one of the most demanding and important departments of the Greek Community of Toronto
Kostas Flegas first drew my attention many years ago when caught in the bureaucracy of the Greek State, needed some advice from our office regarding translations and localization of his documents. What struck me was how humble and down-to earth Kostas’ expectations were, how articulated and clear his brilliant educational plans for personal and community improvement seemed to be and how positive and hopeful his character was projected even in his low-profile disposition of calmness that was almost contagious. I thought to myself: “If this generation of kids is so gifted, then there is still hope for our Community here in Canada.
It wasn’t long before I learned the good news; Kostas was placed in the most demanding and crucial Department of Greek Community of Toronto, the Education Department. From that point on, I knew that the Community was on a secure path to success. Kostas combined knowledge and expertise in his field along with experience and passion for his teaching profession.
Reading Kostas bio, we can feel his passion and love for Greek Culture and Language. We can see that under Kostas’ direction, the Department not only had a significant and historical past, but has a brilliant future as well. Kostas knows his stuff and can clearly single out his goal. “If we lose our language, we will lose our soul” is among his favorite sayings. And I agree with him fully, being an educator and researcher myself with research that backs up almost the entirety of Kostas’ new initiatives in the Department of Education. Kostas hits bull’s eye when he urges Greek Parents who are newcomers to Canada from Greece not to delay bringing their kids to Greek School. Greek language maintenance has nothing to do with “reducing” kids’ English language potential. In addition to that, both kids and parents need an affirmation of their culture through language and events that take place in the Greek Community of Toronto Programs but in other Greek Association programs as well – something that both theory and practice agree upon from current research.
Despite his professional pursuits, Kostas is a very busy family person – happy father of three boys and a girl- but what would a man be without his wife? Sofia Filippidi, a teacher herself makes sure that all her family- Kostas and the kids- are kept in line and on their toes! We suspect that both parents are there to provide a role model for their children, but also for their friends and numerous students.
Without realizing it, Kostas may have contributed to a successful switch to the paradigm of Greek Language Learning in Canada which has been around for quite some time. The success of the historical project “Paidea” is unprecedented for GCT, a program which has unique characteristics, as you will read below, and on top of that is extremely successful, if we see the rising numbers of student enrollment in GCT’s schools. We feel proud and confident that when knowledge and expertise combines with a down-to-earth vision and a genuine passion of Greek Language and Culture, then miracles may happen. For the Greek Community of Toronto, that miracle is the preservation of language and culture not of everyday life situations and plain descriptions as the old model of language survival skills demanded, but the achievement of higher standards for language and culture that is characteristic of Greece’s brilliance throughout the centuries in almost every aspect of Western Culture.
We applaud Kostas for his life achievement of “Paedeia”, his character and vision that inspires others and the Greek Community of Toronto for granting its younger generation the gift of an opportunity to excel in Greek Language and culture.
- Please give our readers a short bio of yourself.
Before I start, I would like to thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to share with your readers important information about “Paideia”, the new Greek Language program, which was introduced by the Greek Community of Toronto, during the 2014-2015 school year. I was born in Toronto, but I was raised as a Greek, by parents who from the start cultivated in me a love and respect for Greek Language and Culture, and the Greek Orthodox way of life. I learned Greek at Greek Community of Toronto schools, and at home. I left for Greece after high school to study at the Pedagogic Department of Florina. I worked in the Greek public school system for 9 years, and then I returned to Canada as a seconded teacher, to support the Greek Community of Toronto schools. I live with my wife Sofia and our 4 children (Christos, Vasilios, Gabriel, Emmelia) in East York, and currently I am the Greek Community of Toronto Director of Education.
- Being the busy family person that you are, what was the reason that made you become involved in such a demanding position as the Director of Education?
I wasn’t really planning to take on this role when I first returned to Canada. My goal was to go back to Greece, which I consider the most beautiful country in the world, and simply the best country to live in. Unfortunately, the financial crisis changed my plans, and here we are back in the daily grind of Canadian life. As you can see, I have a passion and love for Greece, which is the main reason why I continue supporting the Greek Community of Toronto and Greek language education. I strongly believe that all Torontonians of Greek descent should join us at the Community and do the same, as all of us are responsible to help preserve and promote our traditions, our ethos and our paideia.
- We have seen the significant rise in interest from parents to send their children to the Greek Program here at the Greek Community. Can you tell us a little about the reasons a parent should send their children to GCT Greek School?
Language and culture are intrinsically connected. Proficient language skills allow us to communicate values and customs, and they have an important social function. The ability to speak a language well, helps people develop feelings about belonging to a group and it certainly helps create people with a strong identity. This is our goal at the Greek Community of Toronto: To systematically teach Greek so our students can achieve Higher Cultural and Critical Literacy Boundaries. Our students are Learning More Than Alpha to Omega! They are learning what it means to be Greek or rather more importantly they are growing up as Greeks.
To achieve our goal, we have developed a comprehensive Greek Language curriculum which is based on the Common European Framework of Reference for languages (i.e. Ellinomatheia Exams). In an effort to reform Greek Language and Heritage Programs, the Greek Community of Toronto leads the way by collaborating with the University of West Macedonia, in order to develop a Modern Greek Language Curriculum that is tailored to meet the needs and interests of students who learn Greek as a second/foreign language. It is our true conviction that all students of Greek Heritage should attend Greek Language and Heritage Programs, and for this reason we have introduced “Paideia”. I can confidently say that Paideia is a very effective program, as we are already seeing a remarkable improvement in our students’ Greek language skills. As a testament to this I will share with you only one piece of information: In the last two years our student population has increased by 250 students and in September we are starting new schools in the GTA. What this means, is simply that families show trust to our program because they are seeing results. The numbers speak for themselves.
- What are some of the challenges that you faced in your position and how, if at all, you have managed to overcome them. Do you find that you have changed your goals as an administrator because of these challenges?
I believe that the greatest challenge was to bring learning back to Greek Schools. When I went to Greek school in the 70’s, students’ learning profile and the support they received at home were different. We spoke Greek on a daily basis, Greek school was not just a choice but was part of our lives, and for this reason books that were sent from the Greek Ministry for use to our schools were written in this spirit. Over time, this framework changed, but unfortunately the language programs did not evolve, and they could not meet the students’ needs. We ended believing and accepting that all we can do is have our children learn some basic Greek, so they can communicate with relatives when they go to Greece.
As an educator, I strongly disagree with the above perception. As I explained before, Greek Paideia has more to offer to our students than just being able to say “kalimera”, “souvlaki” and tzatziki. Unlike other programs, Paideia is the first comprehensive Greek language program that helps students systematically learn Greek, and demonstrate proof of their Greek language proficiency skills by obtaining Internationally recognized Ellinomatheia Certificates, which are issued by the Ministry of Education of Greece. Therefore, the greatest challenge was to change people’s perception about the importance of Greek school and what it has to offer. The increase in our enrollment numbers, indicates that families are not only trusting Paideia, but also that they are slowly realizing that Greek school is more than a social club.
- Do you find that newcomers from Greece prefer to send their children to the Greek School? Is there any option for a family with low income or newcomers to Canada to send their children to the Greek School?
I can confidently say that Paideia is currently the best Greek language program in Canada. For students who come from Greece, Paideia really is the only option in Toronto, if they want to maintain their Greek language skills, and eventually receive a Greek Language Certificate. Experience tells me that students coming from Greece, have lost significant language skills in the first two years, after moving to Canada. For this reason, it is important for newcomers to start Greek school immediately. I highly recommend our most intensive program called Aristotelis, which operates 3 days per week. I know that some parents make the mistake to delay Greek school in an attempt to help their children adjust to their day schools, and so they can improve their English language skills. However, they don’t realize that Greek school does not deter their English learning. Moreover, these students enjoy Greek school very much and it helps them easily adjust to life in Canada.
At the Greek Community of Toronto, it is our basic principle and objective to enable all Greeks in our community to participate in our educational, cultural and social programs. Taking into account the latest socio-economic developments in Greece, and considering with respect and sensitivity the needs of our compatriots, we decided to support all the families that emigrated from Greece and settled in our city. Specifically, every year we offer significant discounts to these families. However, it is equally important to say we will provide the same discounts to any family that is facing financial difficulties. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank Pronoia, because every year they are supporting families in need, by paying their tuition.
- What is program “PAIDEIA” and how can it help students in their education and future qualifications? What makes it unique and why the Greek Community should invest in growing the program?
As I described before, Paideia is the only comprehensive Greek Language program in the world that is based on the Ellinomatheia exams. More importantly, Paideia doesn’t focus only on developing language skills, as it is connected with culture, history and traditions of Greece, and it promotes intercultural awareness. Paideia has become a reality because the current Board of the GCT, believed and supported this project since the beginning and because of the generous financial support by Krinos Foods Canada and Greektown on the Danforth BIA.
Highlights of the Paideia program are the following:
Paideia is a complete education program that integrates the teaching of language and culture in a proficiency based model. The syllabus for each grade level, from Kindergarten to grade 12, addresses the learning needs of students who study Greek as a second/foreign language.
Paideia includes the following:
- A Comprehensive Curriculum Document that is based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Language. The goal is for our students to acquire Internationally Recognized Language Attainment Certification through the Ellinomatheia Exams.
- Student books with CDs for listening activities (grades 1-12). Each book contains 30 cross-curricular units of study, that help students systematically develop all of language (listening, speaking, writing reading, grammar etc.)
- Teacher guides for all grades, which contain detailed lesson plans
- Do you find that newcomers to Canada have the will to adjust to Canadian reality and culture? What role does volunteerism play in their life and their children’s life?
Canada is among the best places to live in the world. One of the reasons is that Canadians spend a big part of their lives helping each other and their communities. Volunteerism is very important on many different levels, and it is cultivated in our youth from their elementary school years. The purpose of education is to help our youth become responsible citizens of the world, so it is easily understood how volunteerism helps in that regard. Volunteering is a great way to explore your community, and discover something you are really good at. Volunteers come away with a sense of achievement and giving of their skills and time provides for the good of the community.
The Greek Community of Toronto was established in 1909, and it has survived because of the thousands of volunteers who share our goals. The GCT Board of Directors, are all volunteers, who invest time and work hard to keep our community alive and prosperous. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the Parent Associations of our schools, and all the families who are supporting our programs. I believe that all Greeks, regardless of when they arrived to Canada, will continue to work for the common good. After all, we do have philotimo, don’t we?
- With your experience and being the person you are today, how would you advise newcomers to prioritise their goals? How can Greek Education in the Greek Community provide these newcomers and their children a place of belonging and identity reinforcement?
I think that any new family in Canada, should know one thing about this country: It is the most inclusive and culturally diverse country in the world. At some point in their family history, everyone was new to this country. Therefore, I highly recommend that all newcomers to Canada should not give up on their traditions, values and language. This respect for others is what distinguishes Canadians from all other countries. So, they don’t have to feel that they have to sacrifice their cultural identity in order to fit in. The Greek Community of Toronto can definitely help children and adults adjust to life in Canada, as it provides a place where they can continue to celebrate and experience Greek traditions, in the Canadian context.
- Do you believe that the Greek Community as an organization can benefit from newcomers from Greece? Provided that Greece is in such a dire financial state, do you believe that this generation of children going through Greek School will be able to give back to our homeland some day? And how do you think this may be accomplished?
The Greek Community of Toronto is a family of volunteers. Therefore, if more people actively participate in our events and programs, this will ultimately benefit all the participants / volunteers and their families. The GCT is not separate from the people; it is the people. All are welcome to participate in our schools, our cultural programs and even in the administration and running of the community. Naturally, people who are involved in the Greek Community of Toronto develop stronger connections with Greece, and they maintain their cultural identity. I am very optimistic, that Greeks will find a way to dig themselves out of the financial hole, they find themselves in right now. I am certain that those who can help, will certainly do so. Let’s not forget that even today, Greeks continue to teach us what Philoxenia, Philanthropia and Philotimo truly mean. Every day, Greek residents in the Aegean save refuges and give them shelter and food.
- Please talk to us about your future plans as a Director of Education that may help us feel proud of our Greek Heritage and Culture.
I am very happy and proud to say that Paideia and the Greek Community of Toronto are doing quite well. There is a renewed interest in our programs and the organization in general. This gives us the strength to continue improving our programs and services. Our goals for the immediate future include improvements to Paideia, the development of supplementary and complimentary Paideia resources, teacher training, improvements to everyday school operations, and starting new Paideia schools. However, the biggest goal, and the one I’m the most excited about is the development of our Paideia eLearning platform, which is currently in the early stages of planning. I would like to point out that our success is the result of team effort and collaboration, as students, parents, parent associations, teachers, principals, Pronoia, our sponsors, the Education Department under the guidance of the Chair Ms. Stacy Ganogiannis-Reid, and the GCT Board under the leadership of Mr. Artemakis came together and worked hard to make Paideia a Greek Language program that is unique, and of a very high educational value. I would like to thank everyone who has supported Paideia in any way, and I would like to say Bravo! for a job well done. Again, thank you for this opportunity to present to your readers very important information about Paideia. I wish everyone a wonderful and safe summer break.