Eleni Katechis ’15, MSEd18, grew up in the Bronx. Her father, a Greek immigrant, owned a Yonkers diner and her mother is a court stenographer.
Katechis attended a private Bronx elementary school that focused strongly on Greek culture and had a traditional approach to education. She felt comfortable there, enjoying a strong sense of community. But she was also one of the students who needed more than a traditional approach and fell behind.
At Preston High School, an all-girls Bronx private school, she received the kind of support she needed. She began to understand the power of education, and realized she wanted to pursue a profession in which, like the Preston faculty, she could help others thrive.
Now she’s a teacher herself, with a newly minted master’s and dual certification in general and special education.
Hunter was always Katechis’s #1 college choice, not because of its historic renown for training New York City’s teachers, but because her sister’s best friends – all very smart – were Hunter students.
“I looked up to them, and they inspired me to apply,” she says. When she didn’t get in at first, she wrote a heartfelt appeal letter that did the trick.
On campus, Katechis joined the Greek club, Artemis Hellenic, where she found a large group of supportive friends. She majored in psychology, and was as happy on campus as she’d hoped she’d be. “I love Hunter,” she says. “It feels like a second home. I even come here on weekends to work.”
As a graduate student, she found a wonderful mentor in Professor Timothy Lackaye, who, during his 30 years at Hunter, trained and advised countless special-education teachers. Katechis was one of many who suffered a great loss when he died last December.
“Professor Lackaye taught me almost everything I know about how to assess and work with students with learning disabilities in the areas of literacy and math,” says Katechis who began her teaching career at P.S. 6 on the Upper East Side and is now at P.S. 18 in the South Bronx.
At P.S. 6, where many parents were diplomats or business owners, “I came across students from all over the world,” she notes. “Some students from Mongolia and Taiwan didn’t know English yet.”
This led to her Fulbright application to teach in one of those countries.
“I want to learn what it’s like to feel like a foreigner and not speak the language. Then I want to bring back what I learn,” she says, adding, “In New York, it’s especially important for a teacher to be culturally sensitive. I want to meet students’ individual needs, and I believe the best way to do that is to understand them from a personal and cultural perspective as well as an academic one.”
Katechis will spend her Fulbright year in Taiwan, teaching English in a Taipei elementary school. She’ll return to New York with more empathy for her foreign-born students, plus a beginning knowledge of Mandarin – a knowledge that will be useful not only in the classroom, but wherever else this young teacher’s path takes her next.
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