Fly Eagles Fly (Ukrainian Style)

By Irena Gramiak

I live in Philadelphia, and the day before Super Bowl Sunday everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, in the city was bleeding green (the Eagles’ color). From the old to the young, it was like a contagious fever that swept over our area. It was the only thing people wanted to talk about, and our region’s Ukrainian school students were no exception. This includes the students in the Philadelphia area who attend a new Ukrainian school that was created last year. It is called the Ukrainian Nest and has a home at Manor College. My mother and fellow Branch 88 member Chrystyna Prokopovych and I run the Saturday morning programs at this new Ukrainian school.

The Ukrainian Nest offers an alternative learning environment to the traditional Ukrainian classroom. Our students learn Ukrainian language and culture through songs, games and activities. Students and teachers sit on the floor, move around as much as possible, and often get loud. One of the nice things about working in the school is watching the interaction between the older and younger students. The younger students naturally look up to and admire the older ones. The older ones surprisingly embrace the role model position. They always try to set a good example for the little ones. They love the opportunity to teach them something new, especially something they themselves have created.

Our students have fun while learning, partly because we try to relate our lessons to things that interest them. The day before Super Bowl Sunday was no exception. It was evident from the moment the students walked into the building; there was only one thing on their minds: E-A-G-L-E-S! My mother who has never been an Eagles fan (or a fan of anything related to football at all) quickly said “I need to do something eagles with the oldest group.” There was a twinkle in her eyes as she jotted down the words to the Eagles’ fight song. Then she walked down the hall to her classroom.

The oldest group of students, who range in age from 9 to 11, were asked to translate the fight song into Ukrainian. What happened next was amazing. They were immediately excited! If you were to walk by their classroom and look in you might think you were observing a think tank for a new age tech company in California. Some kids had their shoes off, some were sitting on the floor, and some were standing. Some were squeezing stress balls in their hands while shouting out ideas, while others were using the computer to look up words. No matter how they looked or what they were doing they were all passionate about the task at hand and that’s what really matters.

When the students engaged in the project were finished, they taught their song to the younger groups of students. The older students were very proud of their work and were very excited to be the teachers. It was particularly heartwarming to see the younger and older students interact.  When it was time to go home, we invited the parents into the classroom and the students all sang the song. They were not lined up in perfect rows on a stage wearing matching vyshyvky. They didn’t practice a performance piece for weeks before the big recital. They simply sang the words they wrote, and that’s what made this so amazing.  The song itself was in no way perfect. Some of the words were a little silly, some of the lines didn’t fit the beat quite right, but they tried and they were truly excited about using the Ukrainian language, a phenomenon that I consider an incredible success.

Well, as all of America now knows, the Eagles won the big game. On the Monday following the game, one of our Nest parents jokingly said that our song helped them win. For me the big win was seeing students embrace the Ukrainian language, try their hardest, and actually have fun in Ukrainian school. Touchdown!

Originally published in Our Life Magazine

Re-published with permission from the author