Salve Ms. Kouklanakis!

Amy Milin, ’16

As usual, there are many new teachers joining the staff this year at BHSEC. Among these is Ms. Kouklanakis, who now holds a position in the school’s Latin department. She comes here to BHSEC from her last job at the high school Townsend Harris, which is located in Queens.

Ms. Kouklanakis’s native tongue is Portuguese, and apart from Latin she has studied Ancient Greek, among other languages.  She started studying English (which she now speaks fluently and with a completely understandable accent, fortunately for her students) when she was very young. At the time, she lived in Brazil, where she was born and raised. She didn’t learn the language in school; rather, she went to a private teacher whom she admired quite a lot. The tutor was very young at the time – still in college, though Ms. Kouklanakis didn’t realize it then. “I thought she was the best,” Ms. Kouklanakis remembers. “I sort of had a young girl crush on her – she was so pretty and spoke so well. I wanted to be like her. I think that helped me learn.”

Ms. Kouklanakis also studied a cartoon book written in English at the time, which was very dear to her and still holds sentimental value. She went to the Instituto Educacion Ateniense (The Athenian Educational Institute) in San Paolo, where she studied Modern Greek, which she still has interest in and which is the native language of her father. She is Brazilian on her mother’s side. She left Brazil in 1987 to come to New York City and study at Hunter College for her undergraduate degree.

After that, she went to Harvard for her PhD. Writing her dissertation, which focused on the Odyssey and other epic poetry, was “a wonderful experience,” she said. She enjoyed doing research for it and continues to be excited about learning and, of course, teaching. “I enjoy teaching very much. I think it’s a great complement to research work. I love to be able to combine research that I love and teaching languages. [At BHSEC] there’s a lot of support for faculty to continue doing research.”

Some of the other things that she has found pleasant about BHSEC mainly have to do with aspects of the community. For example, she appreciates the fairly small number of students – she feels that she gets the opportunity to really get through to them when she teaches.“[I admire] the level of the students – they are very bright. You can challenge them,” she said. She also likes the level of accomplishment and interest in education that she sees in her coworkers: “I’m enjoying my colleagues – that’s the big thing.”

When she’s not at work, she has children to look after other than those of us at BHSEC. “I have a very busy life,” she laughed. “I have three daughters, all school aged. My hands are very full.” Describing language as “almost a hobby,” learning about and how to speak different tongues is more than just a career for her. She is at least familiar with several: “I have varying competences in different languages,” she said. When she was back in Brazil, apart from languages a memorable hobby of hers is dancing. “Those were my two passions. I still dance – casually, with my children. Around the house,” she smiled.

What are her students saying? Ariadne Speliotis, 10th grader, says of Ms. Kouklanakis, “When she teaches she moves quickly. It’s challenging but rewarding.”  Jasmine Rodney, also a 10th grader in Ms. Kouklanakis’ class, says, “When she teaches she doesn’t always use works from the textbook.  She brings in poems like Catullus’ Carmina, which makes class more interesting.”

Ms. Kouklanakis has had a long journey to us here at BHSEC and we’re glad that she took it. We’re happy to have her as part of our teaching staff and to learn from her extensive knowledge of and affinity for languages – mainly, of course, Latin. Welcome to BHSEC, Ms. Kouklanakis!

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