AVLONA – Setting up a television channel from scratch isn’t the most obvious or easiest thing for a math teacher to do — especially without prior technical knowledge and for use inside a prison.
But that is exactly the task Petros Damianos, director of the school at Greece's Avlona Special Youth Detention Center, took on so his students could access the lessons that coronavirus lockdowns cut them off from.
Greek schools have shut, reopened, and closed again over the past year as authorities sought to curtail the spread of the virus. Like their peers across much of the globe, the country's students adapted to virtual classes.
But the online world isn’t accessible to all.
The Avlona detention center, a former military prison, holds nearly 300 young men aged 18-21, and sometimes up to 25. The school Damianos founded there in 2000 now teaches primary grades through to college, following the national curriculum and awarding graduation certificates equivalent to any Greek school.
While attendance is voluntary, the prison school has grown in popularity and saw record enrollment in September, when up to 96% of inmates signed up. But with internet devices banned in their cells, the prison's students had no way to continue learning when the lockdowns canceled classroom lessons.
“Our teachers couldn’t reach the kids like they reach all other kids in Greece,” said Damianos, a mild-mannered man in his 60s. “This was a big problem, a very big problem that seemed almost insurmountable.”
The fact that inmates are stacked four or five to a cell with less space per person than the prison classrooms didn’t matter. Their school had to shut along with the rest during lockdowns in March and again in November.