Students from the school performed songs, gave informational programs, and recited the greek alphabet. Greek Athenian Charter School is set to break ground off Three Oaks Parkway, Fort Myers. A groundbreaking ceremony was held Thursday, November 8, 2019.
Students from the school performed songs, gave informational programs, and recited the greek alphabet. Greek Athenian Charter School is set to break ground off Three Oaks Parkway, Fort Myers. A groundbreaking ceremony was held Thursday, November 8, 2019.  (Photo: Andrea Melendez/The News-Press/USA Today Florida Network, Andrea Melendez)

Schoolchildren, separated by age group and wearing the blue and white colors of the Greek flag, performed national anthems of the United States and Greece. They also recited the Greek alphabet, Ancient Greece trivia and a song during the groundbreaking ceremony for their new school.

The Athenian Academy Charter School, located at 18801 Oak Center Drive, just east of Three Oaks Parkway, north of Three Oaks Park and south of Alico Road, broke ground Thursday.

The $15 million construction project of the two-story, 68,000-square-foot building, designed and to-be constructed by LAI Group, is scheduled to be finished by summer 2020 in time for the 2020-21 school year.

This is just one of three major construction projects taking place within a mile of one another off Three Oaks Parkway. Check future installments of this column for more details on Murano at Three Oaks, being built just south of Alico Road and visible from I-75, and Vinyards at Portofino, just north of Pine Chase Road. Both are multi-family apartment projects.

Families with children living in those new apartments and elsewhere in the vicinity who are interested in learning Greek and Spanish along with English will have a nearby opportunity for education, grades K-8, with the new charter school building.

“The walls will be going up in January,” said Alex Veloudos, CEO of CHOICE Charter School Services. “In June or July, we’ll have the ribbon cuttings.”

Principal Wendy Lee previously worked as an administrator at a sibling school in Clearwater. The journey to creating the school began four years ago.

The student body will grow from 90 this year to as many as 530 next year with a maximum capacity of 1,060 students.

George Poumakis, 89 and the founder, visited the groundbreaking. Born in Spring Lake, New Jersey, in 1930, he left for Greece in 1932 and returned to the U.S. in time to graduate from John Jay High School in Brooklyn, New York. He made his way to Clearwater in 1977 and recognized the need for a school focusing on foreign languages in 1996, which is when he visited a charter school in Minnesota to gather ideas and feedback.

 

The Clearwater school began with Greek immersive studies, meaning classes were taught in Greek. Struggling with enrollment, the school soon shifted to teaching classes in English but having a half-hour a day of instruction in either Greek or Spanish.

“I thought my country in America needed something with the Greek language,” Poumakis said. “I’m not talking Baklava. I’m talking language and culture. I have to credit my son-in-law (Alex Veloudos) for starting this school. The American child is capable of learning three languages.”

Lee County school board member Melisa Giovannelli spoke at the ceremony.

“I support charter schools,” she said. “I like the global aspect of it. These kids are going to have the opportunity to learn more than one language. That’s what Lee County needs. It brings us more global awareness.”