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The school prefers to keep its size small and intimate, enrolling just 90 students across all grades and employing 14 teachers. Currently, its one-to-seven teacher-to-student ratio ranks among the lowest in the metropolitan area — a quality that appeals to many parents.

Anastasia Kontgis, a mother with two children at St. Sophia’s, is one such parent. “Every teacher knows all the kids. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in third grade or kindergarten or sixth grade, everybody knows each other. We’re like a little family here.”

The school emphasizes Orthodox Christian principles and includes lessons on the faith, Hellenic culture and Greek language. Greek language occupies a central place in the curriculum and students begin early, learning to read, write and speak Greek from kindergarten onward.

With so much weight placed on all things Greek, one might assume that St. Sophia’s attracts exclusively students of Greek descent. Surprisingly, only about 70 percent of the student body comes from Greek Orthodox families. The remaining 30 percent consists of a diverse mix of students from various ethnic and religious backgrounds. The school’s diversity has become a point of pride for the community — faculty, parents and students.

Shawn Winder, a mother who enrolled her daughter at St. Sophia’s, appreciates the diversity of the student body and that her daughter learns a language to which most American children are never exposed. Most important, she chose St. Sophia’s after learning about its great academic reputation and its commitment to small classes. She says that the size of kindergarten classes in the neighborhood public school may be as high as 34 children.

Connecting to the larger community. These days, Salt Lake City’s Greek Town is a far cry from its heyday as a bustling Greek immigrant commercial and cultural hub. Holy Trinity Cathedral remains and serves an active community, but most of the neighborhood’s Greek-owned businesses — not to mention Greek-born residents — are a distant memory, commemorated only by a stop on the city’s light rail.

But for one long weekend every September, Greek Town as it once was reawakens, as tens of thousands of visitors descend on Holy Trinity Cathedral for the annual Greek Festival. For more than 30 years, Holy Trinity has sponsored the event, which celebrates modern Hellenic culture. Last September, the festival drew more than 50,000 visitors. Youth perform traditional dances, chefs hold cooking demonstrations and the public tours the cathedral and Hellenic Cultural Museum. Of course, the main attraction is the food.

The cooking and baking begin in May. Such a large event requires hundreds of volunteers, who cook and prepare the massive quantities of food in the months leading up to the main event. On the festival’s grounds, food is everywhere. Whole lambs roast on spits; pork and chicken souvlakia (skewers) line grills; stacks of dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) cover large dishes, pilaf (Greek-style rice) simmers in industrial-size vats; and baklava and other pastries tempt visitors at every turn.

Mike Pappadakis, who has volunteered at the festival for the last 25 years, prepares lemon chicken. Taking a break from the grill, he and some friends share a drink and conversation.

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Tags: Cultural Identity Immigration Orthodox Church of Greece Utah