Change from Within
A workshop for Armenian School Principals
“This collaboration and forum [has] the potential for a monumental shift in understanding and practice.”
A participating principal
Twenty-nine principals from Armenian day schools in North and South America came together for the first time to participate in a three day intensive workshop in Los Angeles titled “Change from Within: Educational Leadership and Language Acquisition in Armenian Diaspora Schools.” It was sponsored by the Armenian Communities department of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (Lisbon, Portugal), in close collaboration with both the National Heritage Language Resource Center and the Near Eastern Languages and Cultures of University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). It took place on 11–13 January 2018, at UCLA.
The goal of the workshop was to discuss collectively how each principal could identify and apply new pedagogic methods to revitalise Armenian. Language acquisition and teaching encompasses several challenges. One principal, for example, noted that “asking children to speak Armenian without verbalizing the words ‘speak Armenian!’ is almost a mental game, a battle against dogma. How can you coax a child to speak a language naturally?” This was one of the many questions raised, debated and addressed during the three days.
The workshop was divided into six dynamic sessions, combining both theory and practice. The topics discussed included:
- How to cultivate a school community and what school culture entails;
- Philosophy and critical thinking, and how to open the windows of the mind;
- How to live the Armenian language and how the Armenian language can be a living language, the focus being on multilingual education and teacher training;
- How to construct models of language immersion;
- How to engage a generation of readers and writers by fostering creative literacy in classrooms.
In the final session, participants were invited to brainstorm on two questions. First, as principals, what did they take-away from the workshop? And second, what is their next move?
All principals voiced enthusiasm to share the workshop topics and outcomes with their teachers, school boards and parents. There was commitment to speak more in Armenian with their students and to encourage students to freely express themselves in Armenian on various topics, to invest in teacher training, to secure age appropriate reading books in Armenian for their classrooms, and to undertake further steps in improving pedagogy. As one participant stated, “language acquisition is not as difficult to achieve as I had expected it to be. With proper training, all teachers can be effective teachers in educating students to become fluent Armenian speakers.” Another added, “There are so many resources to aid in the language learning process. They are attainable and effective, ready to use and implement.”
It became evident to all participants that they are not alone in grappling with some fundamental issues, that many of the challenges they face are transversal, and that solutions could be sought collectively. “It is very important that we meet more often and discuss similar situations each of us face on a daily basis,” said one of the principals.
“This was a pivotal event in our school-related programming,” said Razmik Panossian, the Director of the Armenian Communities department, “and we are so pleased to have partnered with UCLA in its organization. The excitement in the room, the commitment of the principals, and impact of this workshop on schools and the Armenian language is beyond doubt. Almost all of the Armenian school principals in the US and Canada were present, with an important presence from Argentina. The workshop inspired us further to continue our work on making Armenian a vibrant language in and of the diaspora.”
The following facilitators led the workshop sessions: Anaïd Donabédian (Chair of Armenian at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations, France); Ani Garmiryan (Senior Officer responsible for Western Armenian revitalization projects at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Portugal); Hagop Gulludjian (Lecturer in Western Armenian at UCLA, USA); Amy Hughes (Teacher of English at Manchester Regional School in Haledon, USA); Shushan Karapetian (National Heritage Language Resource Center at UCLA, USA); Anahid Sarkissian (educator, author and publisher, France); Gil Schmerler (Director of Bank Street’s Leadership for Educational Change program, USA); Debi Talukdar (University of Washington Center for Philosophy for Children, USA); Robert M. Uriu (Professor of Political Science at UC Irvine and Principal of Orange Coast Gakuen Japanese school, USA).
The following principals participated in the workshop:
Arsine Aghazarian, Director of St. Mary’s Richard Tufenkian Pre-School (Glendale, CA)
Sister Lucia Al-Haik, Principal of Armenian Sisters’ Academy (Montrose, CA)
Grace Andonian, Principal of Krouzian-Zekarian-Vasbouragan Armenian School (San Francisco, CA)
Houry Boyamian, Principal of St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary (Watertown, MA)
Maral Aroyan-Boyadjian, Principal of Sahag-Mesrob Armenian Christian School (Altadena, CA)
Lina Arslanian, Principal of C&E Merdinian Armenian Evangelical School (Sherman Oaks, CA)
Arpi Avanesian Principal of A.G.B.U. Manoogian-Demirdjian School (Canoga Park, CA)
Alina Dorian, Principal of Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School (Los Angeles, CA)
Ms. Vehik Gabrielian, Director of Holy Martyrs A.R.S Ashkhen Pilavjian Pre-School (North Hills, CA)
David Ghoogasian, Principal of Armenian Mesrobian School (Pico Rivera, CA)
Angin Iskajyan, Director of Ron & Goharik Gabriel Pre-School (Pico Rivera, CA)
Garine Joukadarian, Director of Levon & Hasmig Tavlian Pre-School (Pasadena, CA)
Talin Kargodorian, Principal of Vahan & Anoush Chamlian Armenian School (Glendale, CA)
Sonia Kazandjian, Director of Armenian Sisters’ Academy Pre-School (Montrose, CA)
John Kossakian, Principal of Holy Martyrs Marie Cabayan Elementary School (North Hills, CA)
Shahe Mankerian, Principal of St. Gregory A & M Hovsepian School (Pasadena, CA)
Kristina Movsessian, Director of A.R.S. “Mayr” Chapter Mary Postoian Pre-School (Los Angeles, CA)
Sister Emma Moussayan, Principal of Armenian Sisters Academy (Radnor, PA)
Michael Pratt, Principal of A.G.B.U. Vatche and Tamar Manoukian High School (Pasadena, CA)
Sossi Shanlian, Principal of Holy Martyrs Ferrahian High School (Encino, CA)
Sanan Shirinian, Principal of Ari Guiragos Minassian Armenian School (Santa Ana, CA)
Seta Tavitian-Megherian, Principal of Holy Martyrs Armenian Day School (Oakland Gardens, NY)
Hosep Torossian, Principal of AGBU Alex & Marie Manoogian High School (Southfield, MI)
Lory Abrakian, Vice-Principal of École Arménienne Sourp Hagop (Montreal, QC)
Raffi Sarkissian, Principal of A.R.S. Armenian Private School (Toronto, ON)
Chahé Tanachian, Principal of École Alex Manoogian de l’U.G.A.B. (Montreal, QC)
Elena Achdjian, AGBU Instituto Educativo Marie Manoogian (Buenos Aires)
Graciela Ainajyan, Colegio Armenio Jrimian (Buenos Aires)
Alicia Nerguizian, Instituto Educativo San Gregorio El Iluminador (Buenos Aires)
The full workshop programme, along with the Armenian version of this article, can be consulted below.