Greek Games

A group of 6th grade boys and girls take off from a starting line in the standing broad jump game as part of Greek Day at Jordan Middle School on Friday, March 16, 2012 in Burbank. Sixth graders, for part of the day, dressed in togas with crowns of ivy, to compete against each other. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)

Jeans and T-shirts were replaced with flowing white robes and leafy crowns at Jordan Middle School on Friday as sixth-grade students engrossed themselves in their studies of ancient Greece.

Part history lesson, part cultural celebration, Greek Day is now one of the most anticipated events of the year, teachers and students said.

“It is so much fun, and of course they get to dress up,” said Dana Ragle, who teaches sixth-grade English and social studies. “They pretend they don't want to do it, but when the day comes, they get really into it.”

The costumes were just a small part of the celebration, which is tied closely to the sixth-grade social studies curriculum of ancient civilizations. Students staged a musical rendition of the ancient Greek tale Theseus and the Minotaur, and later competed in Olympic-style games, including the javelin, discus, shot put and the chariot race.

They also were invited to build model-size temples and to make pottery, for which the ancient Greeks were famous. And the Jordan Middle School PTA sponsored a catered lunch featuring Greek food.

“For many of them, it is their first time testing food from another culture,” parent volunteer Suzanne Weerts said. “It is fun because every child is participating.”

Students were also treated to a professional, one-man performance of “Odysseus” later in the day.

For many years, Jordan teachers staged small-scale Greek games for their individual classrooms, English and social studies teacher Twila Perry said. Eventually, they decided to concentrate their efforts and put on one large event for the entire sixth grade. The more robust version of Greek Day is now 11 years old, she said.

“It makes the culture come alive for the kids,” Perry said.

One of the best parts of the planning and execution of Greek Day is watching the students engross themselves in studying the ancient Greek governance structure, including the autonomy of the individual city states and the birth of democracy, Ragle said.

“It really comes together for them and they begin to understand how civilizations develop over time, and the culture and the language and everything that comes through the development,” Ragle said.