The History of Hellenic Primary School
The history of our school began in 1921 when an immigrant to this country from Greece, Mrs Avromakos, began an afternoon program of teaching Greek to the children of the Hellenic Community.
Zimbabwe’s Harare & District Hellenic Community was founded in 1920 as the Hellenic Association of Rhodesia by the community of Hellenic immigrants in the Salisbury area of British colonial Rhodesia. As the community integrated into local life in the decades that followed and particularly after the Second World War, it grew in numbers and economically. Longstanding ambitions to establish facilities for the continuity of Hellenic culture and religion gathered momentum with fundraising social events and donations generously given by many community members.
Foremost of the projects was Agia Triada, the community’s Holy Trinity Cathedral of 1954 with Athenaeum Hall opening at the church premises the following year. In 1956 Mr Chris Economou led an afternoon program teaching Greek language and culture to the community children in the rooms that were later to become Sparta Hall. A teacher from Egypt, Mr Artemis Thalassinos took over and modelled our first school on a Greek school he had set up in Alexandria. In 1970 the afternoon school began to function as a registered full-time daily English-Greek primary school. The initiative surged to build a school in the capital with all the desired facilities. Greece’s Ministry of Education boosted community savings with a $75,000 contribution and on 12th August 1974 the community acquired a 110 acre plot from the municipality. Of historic significance in itself, the site had been the camp of the 1st Battalion of the Rhodesian African Rifles from 1940-1954 during which period the regiment had served in East Africa, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Burma, Egypt and Malaya (Malaysia).
The school began to take shape with structures including administration offices and four classrooms ready for its inauguration on 18th May 1975. The Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria & All Africa, Nicholas VI, flew in for the momentous occasion and Hellenic Primary School was established. A school, at last, that the Hellenic Community had long hoped for and planned, now became their pride and joy!
The Early Years at Swan Drive
The school was brought over from Sparta Hall by the two Heads at that time – Mrs Maria Psarros and Mrs Gill Steinberg. The student body initially numbered some fifty Hellenic children divided into four classes. Elspeth Driver had Grade One, Di Downing Grades Two and Three and Deputy Head Margaret Stedman had Grades Four and Five. The children came in every morning on the school bus, boarding from several collection points. Past students living in Zimbabwe and abroad recollect exciting bus rides at a time when there were no safety belts and the metal bus floor made for excellent marbles play!
As Greek was the first language of many of the children’s families back then, a remedial teacher came in twice weekly and each class visited the Queen Victoria Library every week to borrow books. To further encourage the children in their English language learning, Mrs Steinberg introduced White Card House Points which the pupils earned for effort in their academic subjects. Book prizes were awarded for achievement and, in time, were replaced by Achievement badges in this motivational system still used today.
Mrs Maria Psarros taught in Greece before moving to this country. Coming to Hellenic from Gweru with her family, Mrs Psarros gave 18 years of service to the school as Headmistress and Greek teacher. As Greek Head she was also editor of the community periodical Elliniki Gonia (Greek Corner) which was entirely produced at the school and circulated from there. Registered locally as a newspaper, the publication contained local and regional Greek news with church articles and items of general interest submitted by readers. It enjoyed worldwide membership and attracted local and regional advertising, which revenues were channeled to the school. Mrs Psarros passed away in Greece in January 2013.
The school’s English section was headed by Mrs Gill Steinberg. A teaching head, Mrs Steinberg had Grades Six & Seven in one class. She and her deputy, Mrs Margaret Stedman, were the founders of the first annual school magazine, “which they lovingly put together every year,” comments Mrs Steinberg’s successor, Mike Grispos, from Cyprus where he has lived since leaving the school. Mrs Steinberg served the school until April 1981 and now lives in Israel. Mrs Stedman is featured in the Choir section of this magazine.
A School for Zimbabwe
1980 heralded the new independent Zimbabwe and in September 1981 Mike Grispos from Mutare took over from Mrs Steinberg, also as a class teaching Head. Mr Grispos promptly started Scouts Club, bringing in Mr Demetris Vrachas, a Scout Master from Cyprus who had been living here since 1956. Mr Grispos ran Cubs with a Hellenic mother, Mrs Francis Tselentis, as his Second-In-Command. Supported by other Community folk, the club members enjoyed regular camping trips. Mr Vrachas and Mrs Tselentis are still active community members in Harare.
Mr Grispos introduced cricket and coached the school’s first team. Another Hellenic mum, Mrs Lesley Cizek, coached the swimming team. Mr Grispos fondly recalls that pupils Storme and Theresa Moodie, Anthony and Shelley Cizek, Emma Monk and Warren Foster swam for their country, with the Moodie sisters going on to represent Zimbabwe at the Olympic Games.
Supported by sports-loving teachers from Greece, Nicos Stoyiannos and Demitris Anagnostou, the school got its first tennis court. Tennis was coached by Mrs Jean Hughson to whom we owe thanks for the palm trees she planted which parade majestically to Macedonia Hall from the car park.
Some of the school’s first athletics stars emerged during this time – Stelios Petrides, Barry Ossafa-Atta and the Myriangos sisters – the youngest of whom, Gini, now a Hellenic mum, set a sprinting record that remains unbroken to this day! In 1984 the school opened to non-Greek children. Mr. Grispos established single classes to accommodate the increasing number of students. New classroom blocks were added as the student body progressively grew to some 150 children. Additional teachers and sports coaches were recruited. Greek was on the morning curriculum for all pupils, and for Hellenic children attending other schools there was an afternoon programme which took their Greek studies to O-Level.
The school had outgrown commuting to Athenaeum Hall for its functions and needed a facility for Assembly. Hellenic communities around the country raised funds for a hall and the school raffled a Datsun Sunny Sedan, selling tickets in the city centre’s busy First Street pedestrian mall on Saturday mornings. With further support from architect Nick Economopoulos and the builder, Mr Phonias, Macedonia Hall took pride of place at the school premises in 1986.
The hall accommodated the first library in one of its side rooms. Until then, reading books – many donated by the pupils themselves – had been stored in the classrooms. Rotary Club supported Mr Grispos’ endeavour to develop the school library and right up until he left the school in April 1987, Mr Grispos regularly scouted Harare book stores for good library stock.
In September 1987 Richard Crook replaced Mike Grispos as Head, returning to his country of birth from his post as Headmaster at a British International School in Athens. Mr Crook recalls meeting University of Zimbabwe’s Professor Petropoulos about the job at an Athens restaurant. He was tasked with turning around the school’s finances. Mr Crook accomplished this by expanding the classrooms and the teaching body year by year to take in two classes for each grade. By 1997 the school had doubled to about 380 students including the Nursery School.
A fundraising committee was put to work for Mr Crook’s considerable projects. Fields had to be quickly cleared and planted with grass for an athletics track. A boundary wall was erected to secure the school from trespassers and veld fires. Coaching 1st team cricket and soccer, Mr Crook expanded sports all round. There were new and reconditioned tennis courts, a second swimming pool for races and a new twenty-four seater bus to smartly ferry the students to and from sports’ matches and field trips.
1994 saw the inauguration of a new Administration Block with a permanent home for the school library, thanks to generous fundraising by school parents. In 1995 the Gardini Library opened with the adjacent Parents Association Computer Room, the latter equipped with top of the range Dell computers. Initially run by Mr Robson as an afternoon club, Computers now became part of the morning curriculum under Mr Donald Mlambo, also the school sports-master.
A School for 2000 and beyond
Before Mr Crook’s departure in August 2001, he introduced marimbas and oversaw the extension of the Macedonia Hall.
Mr Tex Harding came in as the first non-Greek Head (since Mrs Steinberg) in January 2002 with a brief but happy and fruitful tenure of service. His passion for rugby saw students of Hellenic Primary representing district and county teams for the first time. Mr Harding had two new sports’ fields built and he initiated the concept of travelling to schools outside Harare for sports matches. In recognition of the fund-raising efforts of the school’s mothers, Mr Harding initiated a Ladies’ Cricket Day, which became a most popular annual fundraising activity.
January 2003 saw the Nursery School expanded with its first intake of non-Greek children and new teachers to prepare the pre-schoolers for Grade One. Alterations to the Administration Block made for a more spacious Reception, a roomier admin office and a new bursar’s office. Mr Harding also began preparations towards building a new sports pavilion, the Andrew Babiolakis Pavilion of 2005, from which teas are now conveniently served; a cool retreat for spectator parents and guests at all field events.
Mr Harding was succeeded in January 2005 by a headmaster who brought to Hellenic his love of the arts and an incentive to develop the music department. Mr Corrado Trinci made introductions which have resulted in groups of children receiving instrumental music instruction from teachers based outside the school and at the new Hellenic Academy. Art entered the morning curriculum. The new sports’ pavilion served as the art studio in the mornings until a new Language Centre was constructed, providing dedicated classrooms for Greek and Shona. Religious Education was emphasised as a curricular subject and a chapel for the school was put on the agenda. Remedial teachers were recruited to support learning differences, initially in a small room off the school hall and then in the Desa Learning Centre, funded by parents and built adjacent to the library in 2007. Computer studies were advanced with upgraded equipment and training programmes. Mr Trinci placed teachers as Heads of Departments and set about establishing annual leadership courses and camps for prefects. The school uniform was updated and student school reports took on a new comprehensive format. ‘House Spirit’ through sporting and academic competition was further enlivened with the formation of a third House, Trojans to complement the long standing Spartans and Atheneans, and major sports events like the Catsicas and U14 Day-Night Rugby Festivals were endorsed with newly flood-lit fields.
Against a background of economic hyperinflation and desperate years for Zimbabwe, the school developed and flourished as Mr Trinci, the Hellenic Community’s Administrative Council, parents and the School Development Committee collaborated in fundraising, maintenance and development efforts. These included the late Mrs Walters/Cable’s major re-landscaping of the premises, as well as a wide range of maintenance improvements for the benefit of the students, visitors, grounds staff and teaching staff. Mr Trinci also ensured the building of the new Nursery School, which was built with great urgency and success.
Thanks to Mr Trinci and his forward-thinking vision of education to be open to all children, including those with special needs, Silver Linings moved to Hellenic Primary School in 2008. This programme was a specially designed method of education focused on the unique needs of children whose requirements may not be fully met in mainstream schooling. A senior facility was simultaneously opened in Avondale and over the years Silver Linings has gone from strength to strength. With much support and fundraising, a tailor-made Silver Linings block was built in 2010, followed in 2013 by a second customised building, enabling the senior students to move to the Hellenic campus. These two modern, fresh and welcoming buildings mirror the positive and determined attitudes of both staff and students at Silver Linings. It is one of Hellenic’s great strengths to integrate our special needs students with our mainstream young people, at break-time, in Assembly, at sports days and wherever possible, encouraging mutual learning and understanding of each other.
Mr Trinci then moved on to become Head of Schools in January 2008 at the new Hellenic Academy, the Hellenic senior school, which he established and ran until his resignation and return to teaching in 2011.
Accessible and calm with a joyful and highly energetic brand of authority and leadership, it seems almost impossible for us now at Hellenic Primary School to imagine anyone in the position of Head other than Mrs Hilary Middleton. Mrs Middleton came to the school as Mr Trinci’s Deputy in 2008 and has led the school as Headmistress since January 2010. Beloved by her students and ever-present at all school functions and events, Mrs Middleton continues to hold the Hellenic banner high. Hilary has recently been joined by Lisa Rickards as Deputy Headmistress, an asset to the management team which will take our school to new heights in the future.