St. Demetrios School, the largest Greek school in America, has embarked on an ambitious new campaign to construct a new daycare building as a way to provide its young families with a safe environment that allows youngsters to be enveloped in the Greek culture.
The new facility, which will provide daycare for as many as sixty children from age 2 on up, will allow for a seamless transition from the daycare into Pre-K and kindergarten classes at St. Demetrios School, which is under the aegis of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Astoria, Queens.
Asked by Greek Reporter how difficult it will be to raise the needed monies to complete the project, Father Nektarios Papazafiropoulos, the dean of the Cathedral, explains, “We had started before the pandemic hit. We were already into the construction project when it happened. There was a hole in the ground and some concrete work had been completed when everything ground to a halt because of Covid.”
New York City was of course particularly hard-hit during the pandemic, and work on the new center, which will be used both for daycare and for community purposes, had to take a backseat as the school grappled with all the innumerable difficulties of the coronavirus.
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A wide range of measures had to be undertaken to ensure the safety of the students at the school, located in Astoria, Queens, but Father Nektarios says proudly, the vast majority of pupils continued to attend school in person throughout the last year.
He estimates that 90% of St. Demetrios’ students attended the school in person while only 10% opted to stay home and receive lessons via Zoom — something he says is particularly meaningful, since all children need this daily structure and social contact in their lives for their growth and development.
The new daycare will be an extension of the school, a “way to accommodate the youngest in our community, instead of going elsewhere,” Father Nektarios says.
“We are a safety net and we want to cultivate our Greek ideals in our own Greek culture. Our school has a history throughout the years, and people trust us as an institution,” he states. “God willing, this new building will be up and functioning soon.”
It is an ambitious plan, he admitted, especially after the multifarious problems posed to educators during the past year, but “every age has its difficulties,” he stated. “It’s never the perfect time to put up a new building. We’re hoping that the Lord, and the community, will support this endeavor.
“Astoria has been here for us throughout the decades,” he states. “Our school goes beyond just our Greek identity,” he says, but adds “It’s a place where children can be completely immersed in our culture.”
In the future, depending on how much room they have, and their needs, the church might even try to accommodate the youngest of all, the pre-day care-age children who are under two years of age, but that will not be happening right away. They are in the early stages of the game plan right now, Father Nektarios says.
For now, the new daycare will be for as many as 60 children, providing a place for them before they can go to school, and as they age out of the daycare, they can of course graduate into the Pre-k and the city’s Universal Kindergarten classes at St. Demetrios School itself.
Construction for the project is estimated to cost $5.2 million; opportunities are now available for naming the new building and/or the naming of floors in the building. Businesses and other entities are now being contacted for what they might be able to donate toward to this very worthy endeavor.
Additionally, Father Nektarios says, when Fall comes and the families have returned to the city after the Summer break, more intensive fundraising efforts will be in the offing.
This is the first major construction at St. Demetrios in forty years, the priest tells Greek Reporter, which will “provide for the next generation, as well as an opportunity for rebranding ourselves and staying relevant for our young families.”
Located across the street from the Cathedral, next t the School, the daycare will be at 30-11 30th Drive in Astoria, Queens.
This past year, he says, there were 500 children attending the school due to Covid — while usually there are 600. God willing, Father Nektarios says, people will be coming in soon to register their children for the new 2021-2022 school year, and the academic year will be a normal one in every way.
Families wanted their children to be here, he said, during even the worst of the pandemic. “Our normal social interactions are so important in a child’s life,” he stressed, adding that this normalcy was part of what allowed them to keep their sanity during that very difficult time.
When the public schools in New York City shut down, he said, St. Demetrios was able to stay open all throughout the pandemic, although that meant an enormous effort on the part of the school to erect dividers and institute hygiene measures in order to keep the students safe.
St. Demetrios spent large sums of money in that endeavor, he states, but it was all worth it so that a semblance of normal life could be maintained for the students. On March 25 of this year, the school even celebrated the Greek bicentennial with a socially-distanced parade featuring Greek costumes and music.
Now, it may be the turn of the local community to give back to the school that has given its students, and the community, so very much over the decades.