Grownups go back to class for unfinished business

Machi, 49, works as a nursing assistant and her favorite subject at school is mathematics. Maria prefers computer science; at 54, she works for a shipping firm. Hara, 38, and Eleni, 41, don’t have any preference. The simple fact that they are back in school and doing something for themselves is enough. They all attend the Second Chance School in Piraeus, one of 32 of its kind throughout the country that allow those who did not finish the minimum nine years of compulsory education to obtain their junior high school diploma. The bell rings for break, but no one races outside – they are still doing their last math exercise. «It was a childhood dream to be able to finish high school,» said Machi. «But I never imagined it would feel so good to be back in the classroom. I feel young again and it has helped me in my work. Now I can read the English labels on the medicine bottles.» Maria is getting ready for the next lesson, physics. She doesn’t need a high school diploma for her job, but decided to go back to school – after 40 years – for her own satisfaction. «I come from a large family and things were hard back then. I had to leave school early, but for some years I had been thinking about going back. As soon as I heard about these Second Chance Schools, I made the call,» she said. «It was something I needed for myself. I always liked reading, but my mind would get stuck. Now it is slowly becoming ‘unstuck,’» she added. Eleni works at a senior citizens center (KAPI) in Piraeus and left school to marry. «But it was something I always wanted to do. At 24, I tried to go back, but my children wouldn’t let me; it embarrassed them. Now I don’t listen to anyone. I have a goal,» she said. Eleni said she was able to get a job, even though she hadn’t finished school, by using influence. «But I got fed up. I want to deserve my job,» she explained. Hara also got a job by pretending to have finished school, which she had left because she had been a «reactionary» child. «But I owed it to myself to finish at some point. Anyway, I can’t tell my child to study when I myself haven’t.» The Second Chance School has offered her more than just the opportunity to get a diploma. «It has changed my state of mind. I am going through the adolescence I left behind,» she said, adding that at her age she is not afraid of being thrown out of class for asking questions or making objections, and not only because she is about the same age as the other pupils, as well as their teachers, but because of the general attitude at these schools, particularly the one in Piraeus, where the director, Marios Mouratidis, told Kathimerini that everyone is on a first-name basis. «There is mutual respect; we are like a happy family, and that shows. Most students are enthusiastic and hope to continue their studies,» he said. «I have rediscovered what it means to be a teacher,» said Maria Kayiavi, who teaches environmental studies. «At this school, you get back what you put in. You walk into the classroom and know that these people want to learn,» she said. The job is not without its difficulties. «You need to be flexible because there is no specific syllabus. You have to conduct research, to look for new things. Then there are the great differences among the students. There are some who have never opened a book in their lives, and others who are well read but simply never finished formal schooling,» Kayiavi said. Another challenge is the student’s image of schoolteachers from the 1960s. «When you manage to break down that barrier, then you know you have won them over.» 32 schools around the country The Second Chance Schools give people over the age of 18 the opportunity to get their junior high school diploma. The duration of the program, which is funded by the Operational Program for Education and Basic Vocational Training, is 18 months, but there have been moves – chiefly pressure from the students themselves – to extend it to cover senior high school. The subjects covered are Modern Greek, English, mathematics, physics, computer science, social and environmental studies and art. The staff include psychologists and vocational advisers. There are currently 32 of these schools around the country, each attended by 50 students, most of whom are women aged 35-45. They are situated in the prefectures of Aitoloacarnania (in the town of Agrinio), Attica (Acharnes, Korydallos, Peristeri, Kallithea, Aghioi Anargyroi, Piraeus), Achaia (Patras), Evros (Alexandroupolis), Drama (Drama), Ioannina (Ioannina), Ileia (Pirgos), Iraklion (Tylisos), Thessaloniki (Thessaloniki, Neapoli), Lasithi (Ierapetra), Lesvos (Mytilene), Pella (Yiannitsa), Rhodope (Komotini), Viotia (Orchomenos), Evia (Aliveri), Karditsa (Karditsa), Kastoria (Kastoria), Magnesia (Volos), Xanthi (Xanthi), Serres (Serres), Trikala (Trikala), Fthiotida (Lamia), Florina (Florina) and Fokida (Amphissa).

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