Special to the Hellenic News of America
Stella Bompotsiari, founder and owner of The Greek Online School was surprised to discover how much Greek Americans loved their Hellenic identity and how interested they were to pass on that identity to their children.
“You think they don’t care, but they care so much…” she says.
It was part of the reason she wanted to start her Greek language online school back in 2012.
With a background in Greek language studies and online technology, Bompotsiari was able to find creative ways to make the Greek language more interesting for children, beyond what they were getting from a traditional education at a Saturday visit to a Greek school.
“I think all Greeks have a massive interest in their language. I love my language because it defines who I am.”
Bompotsiari was a trailblazer, developing an online school 10 years before the pandemic made it popular.
Going online gave her access to people around the world.
It was a slow beginning, literally. Connections were slow. Platforms would crash. People also had a hard time grasping the concept.
“I would say I teach Greek online and they would say, ‘do you have a real job?'”
These days, technology and people have caught up to her.
“The number of students grew massively after the COVID-19 breakout,” she says. “Everybody was looking for online alternatives and we have been online for a few years so we had the experience and we were able to facilitate everyone and welcome everyone.”
Today, The Greek Online School has 1,700 children and adults enrolled. There’s a dedicated staff of 55 to 60 teachers.
Most students are children of second and third-generation Greeks.
Why Mostly Children?
Bompotsiari began by teaching adults, but many of the parents included their children in the sessions to be closer to Greece, to the culture and history, and to family.
“It’s important for them to visit Greece, to meet with the relatives, to be able to speak.”
What makes this school different?
The Greek Online School designs lessons to be interactive and fun. The activities are also not confined to just class time.
“I wanted to bridge the gap between children’s lives outside the school and the children’s lives in the Greek school.”
Lessons are taught through educational games with children competing in teams. Going for a team win motivates them to study.
How the school works
Students can take private lessons; join small groups of 2 or 3, or larger groups of 7 to 8 people.
Children stay in school as long as they need to understand and speak basic Greek, usually about four to five years. Adults are usually in a more demanding Greek course.
Two programs in Greece
Apart from the online classes, there are also two in-person summer programs in Greece for adults and children.
New this year, the school has created an immersion course for adults at the school of Spetses under the auspices of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Adult students spend nine days in June at one of the most historic buildings in Greece. After lessons, they join social and cultural activities on the school estate and on the island
There’s also an annual summer opportunity for the children to join a Greek camp close to Athens.
Following daily Greek lessons, the children have the rest of the day to participate in camp activities, including basketball, swimming, horse-back riding, Greek dancing, and crafts.
It’s a chance for the children enrolled at the Greek Online School to meet children from Greece and expose them to the language 24/7.
It’s also a chance to make friends from Greece.
“At the beginning, I was not sure how the children from Greece would welcome our students but it’s amazing how proud they are and how happy they are to meet them,” she says. “We become a big Greek family all together.”
Origins of the school
Bompotsiari and a future business partner, Pavlos Ksinas, came up with the idea for Greek Lessons Online back in 2007 while in college.
Bompotsiari has a BA in Greek Literature at the University of Patras and a Masters in Art degree from the University College of London Institute of Education in Information and Communication Technology.
Her MA degree project evolved into The Greek Online School, with significant help from Ksinas, a mathematician and close friend in college.
“He was trying to find his own ways to do something interesting for his students, like finding tools online.”
Bompotsiari was born and raised in Karpenisi, in Central Greece. She grew up in Aigio.
After finishing her studies at the University of Patras, she moved to the United States to spend time with her big brother, Panagiotis, who had lived in America for 30 years.
Panagiotis, who died two years ago, was living in Raleigh North Carolina, and worked with his uncle Stavros Bobotsiares on a successful chain of restaurants.
There was a 10-year age difference between Bompotsiari and her brother, Panos. She was only 10 when he left for the United States.
“You’re very young when you’re 10 years old. You don’t have many memories.”
She also ended up working for the restaurant chain for a few months but decided to move to London to advance her studies, earning her MA degree.
These days she lives in London with her husband Alexandros Vris, an orthopedic surgeon and head of orthopedic trauma in one of the largest trauma centers in Europe.
He’s been “super supportive” of her career, making it possible for her to maintain and grow the Greek language school.
Bompotsiari has a mother and sister still living in Greece, and a second brother. Her father passed away four years ago.
She remains very close to her mother, sister, and brother, and to her nieces and nephews.
“Family is super important to me in so many ways.”
Her parents made her understand at a very young age why it’s so important to be happy and close with your family.
Losing her father and big brother, she appreciates that so much more.