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August 5, 1999
Informal Gurukul Completes 15 Years
Nitish S Rele in Tampa
Fifteen years ago, University of South Florida Professor Dr A N V Rao began an academic Sunday school in Tampa. Ever since then, every Sunday except for major holidays, about 150 children of mostly Indian descent from all over the Tampa Bay area have been attending the school on the premises of that university. Dedicated volunteers and the Students of India Association have been the cornerstone of the school's foundation.
"Back then, I had this idea that I wanted the academic aspect developed," Rao reminisced. "As a result, we were the first such school in the US where students could take classes and also interact with other Indians," he said.
The academic classes are held from 9 am till 1 pm, after which lunch is served. Cookies and soft drinks are offered during break. Every Sunday, parents bring in food according to the lunch schedule provided to them.
Kotha Sekharam, the school chairman, said there is a one-time registration fee for students and a $ 15 monthly fee to defray expenses. At present, the school has students from first grade through 12th grade.
Lessons are offered in English, algebra, science, trigonometry, chemistry, general science, physics and other subjects.
"Last year, we added MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) classes," said Rao who conducts mathematics classes at the school.
Professor Don Ryan has been teaching English for the last nine years. "I enjoy interacting with these children who are so enthusiastic about their studies," he said. "They take a keen interest and show the desire to learn."
Sekharam pointed out that some students attend a grade or two higher than the grade they are eligible for. Take the case of Sahil, son of Haren Mehta of Tampa. "Sahil is actually in sixth grade but he attends a seventh grade class at Sunday School," said Mehta. "This way, he is preparing for the future."
Sahil, on the other hand, immensely enjoys his Sunday mornings at school.
Mehta immigrated to the United States from England about three years ago and during the transition, the Sunday school was a boon for his son.
"Today, Sahil has a lot of confidence in his work," he said.
Sharad Patel, who used to teach algebra and geometry at the school, remembers the days when his now-college going children used to attend Sunday school. "My children are doing very well today," he said, "and in a way inspired me to teach here."
Every year, the Sunday school holds two events: an annual picnic where Students of India volunteers, teachers and all students are served a free dosa lunch at a university park. And then there is the graduation ceremony where students are honored with trophies and teachers given appreciation mementos for their work.
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