TARPON SPRINGS — By 9 a.m. the students were at their desks, clutching the posters they had carefully scribed with Greek letters in preparation for their international video call.
Some sat quietly, blinking away their sleepiness.
But most were visibly excited, giggling as they pondered what they would say in front of the camera.
With the click of a laptop, the projector screen turned bright, connecting the students at Plato Academy, a charter school, with their peers on the Greek island of Kalymnos.
Kalimera, the students called out. Good morning.
Kalispera, they heard back. Good afternoon. In Greece, it was 4 p.m.
Only a few of the kids at the Plato Academy on Keystone Road in Tarpon Springs are Greek.
But lessons on the Greek language and culture start in kindergarten.
The school's philosophy on the Greek language will sound familiar to anyone who has seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, said Plato Academy board member Chris Alahouzos, referring to Gus Portokalos, the movie's patriarch, who insists Greek is the root of every word.
"Over 20 percent of the words in the English language are from the Greek language. I'll give you some examples: democracy, politician, school," Alahouzos said, adding that Greek can help with math, science and other fields that rely on Greek words.
Plato Academy superintendent Steve Christopoulos and principal Danielle Turro are also Greek.
For the students who attend Plato Academy, the highlight of Greek learning usually comes in fifth grade, when they take a field trip to the Mediterranean county.
But now the school is strengthening its ties with Greece, connecting through Skype with the First Elementary School of Kalymnos.
On Tuesday, the students, thousands of miles and seven time zones apart, met each other. Later, the school's leaders hope, the students can nurture friendships through emails and home visits.
One by one, the students introduced themselves Tuesday, speaking Greek at various skill levels.
Some — perhaps a bit nervous — spoke too softly or reverted to English. The adults, with encouraging smiles, urged the students to speak Greek and speak up.
Nicholas Sowell, a blond-haired 11-year-old who said he has never been to Greece, spoke loud and clear as he held up a poster with a hand-drawn picture of Greek salad and asked, "What's your favorite food?"
"Souvlaki!" responded the Greeks, seemingly all in agreement.
Maria Christodoulou, 11, whose family is Greek, smiled shyly and swept her curly brown hair from her face as she asked how many schools are in Kalymnos.
"Eleven or 12," responded a boy with gigantic round glasses and a wide smile. Kalymnos, which is on the Aegean Sea, has only about 16,000 people.
As the conversation came to a close, four Plato Academy second-graders sang a Greek nursery rhyme about a bunny.
All the students chimed in for Greece's national anthem and The Star-Spangled Banner.
Finally, the kids said goodbye, or yiassas. And then stood up and waved.
Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4155.