by Aphrodite Kotrotsios, Co-Publisher
Vineland, NJ- Steven Calakos, a fellow Greek-American, was honored by the Board of Education of Petway Elementary School in Vineland, NJ, with the prestigious “National School of Character Award” as well as the “Teacher of the Year Award”. Steven is in his sixth year of teaching language arts, math, reading, science and social studies at Petway Elementary School. He attended Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2008. Steven comes from a family of exceptional teachers who have dedicated their lives to educating children. His mother just retired after 28 years of teaching special education, his sister is a special education teacher, his uncle and godmother are elementary school teachers, and his aunt is a retired language arts teacher. It is no wonder that Steven has distinguished himself in his career after coming from a family of wonderful role models. His success doesn’t stop there, aside from his teaching career Steven has founded the Petway Players Drama Club and is the director of the Vineland All-Middle School Product Company (VAMP). Moreover, Steven has experience in theater and the arts that has allowed him to help his students excel in extracurricular activities, including the drama club and VAMP.
Hellenic News of America (HNA): How does it feel to have received two amazing awards in one year? What does it all mean to you?
Steven Calakos (SC): I am very fortunate to be part of such a wonderful community at Petway Elementary School. Receiving the NSOC Award was such an honor for our K-5 school of almost 600 students. We worked really hard on our character education program and we are certainly reaping the benefits now.
Being honored as Teacher of the Year is something I really never expected. There are so many dedicated, intelligent, motivated teachers in our building. For my administration and colleagues to have chosen me is very humbling.
HNA: What does teaching mean to you?
SC: I found this quote recently and I thought it really applied to my philosophy on education: George Bernard Shaw once said, “What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.” When I first began teaching, I decided that one of my main goals as an educator was to demonstrate that teaching is an ongoing process. And so, I use this philosophy as means to create a learning community in my classroom.
HNA: How do you inspire your students in the classroom?
SC: I tend to use my own personal life experiences as a foundation for my teachings. It is important for my students to understand that they will ultimately use the knowledge they are gaining out in the real world. Therefore, I use personal anecdotes and traveling experiences to enhance my lessons. Nothing rewards me more than to see the excitement on my students’ faces when I show them photos from a trip I took to the Everglades when we study the Southeast region of the United States or a video clip of me jumping back and forth over the Prime Meridian in Greenwich, England when we study earth’s hemispheres. They are fascinated and engaged. Most importantly, they are inquisitive. I see the learning that is taking place and it is wonderful.
HNA: As a teacher, what are some of the challenges you are faced with on a daily basis?
My district is made up of families from across the globe. My classroom consists of students with many different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Therefore, the biggest challenge for me as a teacher is figuring out how to connect with these students and engage them so that no matter their differences outside of the classroom, they can all learn successfully within their learning community.
HNA: What was your inspiration behind the creation of the Petway Players Drama Club?
SC: It is important for me as a teacher to provide my students with opportunities they wouldn’t normally receive outside of school. Theater is very important to me. It has had a huge impact in my upbringing and adult life. One of my goals, when I got hired full time was to start a theater program at my elementary school to show students something new and different. Six years later, I have seen students blossom into well-versed public speakers and present with confidence rather than hide in the shadows. I simply want them to pursue their passion in life with confidence. If it happens to be musical theater, then I will be one proud director.
HNA: Are you still involved in the theater industry?
SC: I am still very much involved in theater. Over the last eight years, I have performed on national television as a semi-finalist contestant on NBC’s Grease: You’re the One That I Want, in various professional theaters in the Philadelphia area, including the Media Theater, Society Hill Playhouse, the Ritz Theater, and Candlelight Dinner Theater in Wilmington, DE, performed two of my very own concerts, and am a commercial and print model in Philadelphia. You might’ve seen me on your SEPTA commute on either a bus or train! I am very driven to continue my professional career as an actor while maintaining my full-time job as a teacher so that I can continue offering new and exciting opportunities for my students. I want them to know that I am more than just a teacher and director. I want them to know that if they work really hard, they will be successful. It might take a while, but they’ll get there.