Becky Yerocostas: Inspiring Young Hellenes
Socrates said, “Anyone can be a Hellene, by their heart, their mind, their spirit.” For years now, Becky Yerocostas has been creating and inspiring young “Hellenes.” First as a Greek School teacher in her local church community, and now she has expanded her influence, sharing Greek history, culture and tradition with young scholars in Northern California.
Q.Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am the proud mother of four wonderful children, and a teacher who is very passionate about my heritage. First, I was a teacher, and then I became the Director of the Annunciation Greek School. As a member of the Hellenic Education and Cultural Commission, I helped organize and present at teacher seminars.
I also helped organize and teach at the first Greek Language Immersion Camp <<Ελληνικό Χωριό>> at St. Nicholas Ranch in Dunlap, CA. I currently teach Modern Greek and Mathematics at a public charter school in Roseville, CA – John Adams Academy and am the current Chair of the Foreign Language Department.
Q.Yours is a unique program in Sacramento schools. How did the design of the program come about?
A teacher friend of mine told me about a new school that was going to open in our area. She told me that it was based on a Classical Leadership Education. I researched this school and found that its vision, mission and values mirrored my own and I wanted to become a part of this education revolution and make a difference.
This type of education goes back to the type of education our founding fathers received – which included Greek and Latin. I contacted the founder of this school, Dr. Dean Forman, and expressed my interest in his school and the importance of offering Greek as part of the curriculum. Shortly thereafter, I met with the first principal and we started that first year with two classes of Modern Greek. We are now in our sixth year and currently have 4 classes.
Q.Tell us a bit about your students’ response to the program.
Our scholars love the Greek classes. They come in the first day not knowing what to expect. They leave with smiles on their faces because they are already reading basic sentences. My love and passion for the language come out in my lessons, which inspires my scholars to love the language and class as well.
Q.You have a pen pal program? How do you feel this helps to benefit your students? What similarities or differences do you see in their educational programs?
I do have a pen pal program. I was introduced to a teacher in Greece, Athena Travlos of Travlos SFL, by a dear friend. Athena and I have been great friends and teaching partners ever since. We treat this pen pal program as a group project. We pair our students up and then one class starts the process. We read/edit and approve each letter before sending.
When our responses arrive, the scholars first read their letters to themselves then everyone shares their letter with the class. These letters spark amazing discussions. It is wonderful to see how their views and attitudes change as we progress through the year. In the beginning, when they read about something that is different, they call it weird. I explain that it’s not weird, it’s just different and then I explain why. After that, instead of saying that something is weird, they ask why.
The scholars learn more from these letters about the culture of Greece than I could ever teach them in a classroom setting. They are learning from children their own ages with similar likes and interests. The scholars find that even though we live so far apart, we share more similarities than differences.
Our sister school in Greece is a little different than ours because it is a language school, where the students are preparing to take proficiency exams. At our school, the scholars only take Greek one year as a foundation to future language courses.
Q.What topics do you include in your class lessons?
My classes focus on language, culture, history and mythology. We have daily language practice with various exercises and activities that reinforce what has been learned and to help them learn/understand the new material. The scholars learn poems and songs for holidays such as October 28 and March 25th. I have even been known to teach them a dance or two. I teach them Greek Christmas Carols and we perform for the school board or for the entire school right before Christmas break. Their voices are beautiful and their pronunciation is impeccable. I am always so proud of them.
Once a week, we have mythology lessons. At the end of our mythology unit, the scholars pick their own god, goddess or creature from Greek Mythology and they do a research project, which they present to class. They do another research project at the end of the year. That second project is to research a historical figure, historical moment or place in Greece. These projects have three main components – a visual model, written research and an oral report. These are wonderful because they allow the scholars to research something that they are interested in and become the teachers on the day of their presentations.
Q.What is your favorite component of this class?
All of it. I absolutely love what I do. I feel so grateful and blessed to have been given this opportunity. I have never worked so hard, but it is worth it. I don’t know of any other place where I could do what I do here.
Q.Are there plans to expand the program?
There are discussions of possible plans for the future, but nothing for certain yet.
Q.What surprised you most while developing this program?
I was surprised at how all of the scholars, parents, admin, and founders embraced and continue to embrace this program. The scholars, for the most part, do not have a Greek background, yet they fall in love with the material. The parents, admin and founders realize the importance of the Greek language and history and support this part of the curriculum whole-heartedly. That is truly special and unique.
Q.What’s the best response you have received from one of your students about this program?
There are so many great responses, it’s hard to choose just one. What I do love though, is that I can be at the grocery store, or somewhere out and about running errands and a former student will come up to me and say, <<Γειά σας, Κυρία Γεροκώστα, τι κάνετε;>> (Hello Mrs. Yerocostas, how are you?). They don’t forget everything that they had learned and use it in other classes. I also love it when I have a class performing either the Greek Christmas Carols or something like, <<Μήλο μου Κόκκινο>> and former scholars join in.
Those are moments that I have to pinch myself. I know that I have made an impact on their lives and that they will carry a love for the Greek language, history and culture hopefully forever.