On Saturday, March the 5th, I attended a strategic planning seminar for the ARS Armenian school in Toronto to chart a course for the next 5 years. I was invited as one of the past chairs of the school trustees “Կրթական մարմին”. There were 8 previous chairs plus the current one, Sevag Kupelian, who was chairing the meeting. There were about forty participants and I was certainly the oldest.
Present was also Mrs. Arpi Ajemian, the former principal of the school, but her presence was not acknowledged, or given a chance to speak. I think that was an oversight that should have been avoided. It was pleasant and gratifying to meet many members of the three generations in the audience. There were many alumna members as well and some were among those who made presentations.
The meeting lasted over four hours and it was well organized, and I might say maybe even “over” organized. The “packed” agenda could only be justified as being the first meeting to set the stage for others to follow. It was explained that other-focused meetings will be followed once the organizing committee summarizes the presentations including many suggestions that were made by the participants. The hectic pace of the meeting was like a “race to the finish line”.
All presentations were well prepared and well delivered and covered most of the issues that is associated with the operation of the school and its future. We were provided a thick package that included copies of all the presentations. It is a good source and guide to planning for the future. It felt like pursuing old dreams with new means and technology.
Other than the financial issues, most attendees were concerned more about the Canadian program than the Armenian teachings. It was reassuring to hear the principal of the school, Armen Martriossian say that, his main emphasis for the Armenian program is the teaching of the Armenian language, as the best means to preserve the Armenian identity, and he is absolutely right.
It was gratifying to hear a fine representative of the third generation Hasmig Shahinian-Zarokian, a school alumna, and a board member, talk about “Trends and changes in learning approaches”. She spoke about shortcomings of the rote learning գոց սորվիլ and the importance of the critical thinking/learning. She also emphasized the importance of learning from each other. In her presentation, she recalled some “boring” Armenian history classes and more boring grammar lessons. She had good humor.
Rupen Janbazian another alumna talked about “The future of Armenian Language Studies” He explained the importance of learning the Armenian language for the preservation of the Armenian identity. His main point was that the old method of teaching the Armenian language does not work anymore, and we have to find new ways and develop new means. He stressed the importance of finding solutions locally, with our own means and abilities. I could not have said it any better.
Another young representative of the third generation Hrag Palian made his presentation through Skype about “The psychology of learning and youth”. He talked about the advantages of learning more than one language. Hrag seemed very passionate about the subject and talked about the importance to understand that, learning a second and third language simultaneously with other subjects does not hinder the learning process rather, it improves it. There is ample research to support this theory.
Alfred Baghouzian an IT specialist made a presentation about “The use of IT in learning”. He talked about how technology could supplement the existing curriculum and help measure the performance. I wish I had the “thick” package that included the presentations to make valuable and legitimate quotes from it, rather than rely on my fading memory.
Daron Keskinian another fine representative of the new generation, a board member, and a member of the organizing committee, presented much-needed results of a survey from the teachers and parents. I was pleasantly surprised to hear a very high percentage of the parents reported that they speak Armenian at home. But what I witness during family social gatherings, and interacting with young parents whose children attend the ARS school, it seems the opposite is true, and English speaking at home seems to be the “norm” for the new generation.
The previous board chairs were allowed five minutes and I was first to speak as the oldest “chair holder”. I was asked to speak fife minutes “To present your thoughts in the context of the early days of the school, overall approach, biggest challenges, and overall observations”. Needless to say, a tall order to be delivered in five minutes. I limited my presentation to the Armenian teaching program.
Fortunately, I found a 6-page handwritten report in Armenian, that I had prepared for a similar seminar convened in Montreal on August 22, 1986. Yes, a mere thirty years ago. There could have been no better way to present the thinking of that era “in the context of the early days of the school” than reading a few of the recommendations written exactly thirty years ago.
The recommendations that I read could have been as relevant for a century ago and as of today, and few were even repeated more than once at this seminar as well. The only “nonconventional” quote from the report was, to start teaching the Armenian history in stages, and starting at grade fife while till grade fife concentrates only on teaching the Armenian language. Գալ տարուընէ սկսեալ, եւ հանգրուանային դասաւորումով, հայոց պատմութիւնը դասավանդել սկսելով հինգերորդ դասարանէն.
I concluded by reading the following that I had prepared for this strategic session and was written exclusively for the Armenian program.
“Ամենայն լրջութեամբ պիտի ըսեմ, եթէ այսօր ես գրել ուզէի այս դպրոցի առաքելութիւնը, Vision Statement, երկու տողով պիտի գրէի հետեւեալը. Այս Նախակրթրանի հայերենի ուսուցումը այն աշակերտներուն եւ ծնողներուն հմար է, որրոնք տուներէն ներս հաերէն ՉԵՆ խօսիր”.
“Եւ այս նպատակին իրականացման համար որպես նպատակ, Mission statement, դարձեալ երկու տողով պիտի գրէի հետեւեալը. Այս Նախակրթարանը հայերէն պիտի սորվեցնէ եւ հայ ըլալու գիտակցութիւն պիտի փոխանցէ իր աշակերտներուն, եւ աշակերտներուն միջոցաւ նաեւ իրենց ծնողներուն”.
(It roughly translates “If today I had to write a short vision statement of the Armenian program it will read. This elementary school is for the students whose parents do not speak Armenian at home”.
“And the short mission statement will read. This elementary school will teach the Armenian language to its students and also pass on to them a sense of belonging to the Armenian people, and through the student pass on these teachings to their parents as well”).
In the above mentioned 1986 report I had defined the learning/understanding of the “sense of belonging” in simple terms, and it reads as follows. Ծնած եմ հայ, ծնողքս հայ է, ծնոքիս գերդաստանը հայ էին, նախահայրերս հայ էին, հայութիւնը սկիսբէն մէնչեւ այսոր ապրած է որպես հայ, եւ ես անոնց շարունակութիւն եմ. (Խուսափիլ ուռեցիկ նշանաբաններէ).
It roughly translates. “By birth, I am an Armenian, my parents and their families lived as Armenians, our forefathers were Armenian, we have survived, and I am continuing that survival process”. (“Refrain using hollow slogans”)
It has been a long very long time since I have attended such a meeting, and it was very gratifying. What I missed was, the “good old days”, when after such meetings, we use to socialize in a nearby restaurant, and apart from enjoying the food, we also enjoyed the camaraderie, the humor, the teasing of each other for going “overboard” in our rhetorics, etc, especially so, if the restaurant was liquor licensed. Best learning process ever invented.
Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian