ATP’s Program ‘Building Bridges’ Between Diaspora and Armenia

Students from St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School visit ATP’s nursery in Karin Village

WATERTOWN, Mass.–Armenia Tree Project (ATP) is now into the third year of an exciting program to introduce its environmental education material in Armenian schools throughout North America. The program, “Building Bridges: Connecting Diaspora Armenian Students with Their Environmental Heritage,” has been funded by a grant from the Thomas A. Kooyumjian Family Foundation.

It has been positively received by students and teachers at Armenian schools across the US. One of the first achievements of the project was the publication of an English edition of ATP’s “Plant an Idea, Plant a Tree” education manual. The 97-page manual includes information on the importance of forests, lessons on exploring the environment, and ecological and cultural heritage. A lesson titled “The Beetle School as a School of Nature,” for example, includes a first-ever English translation of the well-known poem by Hovhannes Toumanian.

The second major achievement of the project has been the publications of two editions of the “Building Bridges” newsletter. The newsletters and manual are available on the ATP website and in print format and have been distributed to teachers and students in Armenian schools across North America over the past two years.

“Environmental education has been a key program priority for ATP for quite some time and since we have developed the resources about Armenia, it made sense to introduce the material in the Diaspora,” explains Building Bridges Program Manager Sarah Hayes. “The overall goal is to raise the level of awareness about Armenia’s natural heritage and environmental challenges, as well as making connections between young people.”

ATP has been working with schools in the Diaspora and in Armenia to present the material and to strengthen these connections. Over the past two years, representatives from ATP’s Watertown and Los Angeles offices have visited schools in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, and New Jersey. ATP’s environmental education program staff in Armenia works with local students and teachers to facilitate introductions between peers around environmental issues.

“In addition to using our educational material in the classroom or hosting presentations at school assemblies, we have encouraged schools to visit and see ATP’s programs during class trips to Armenia as part of the Building Bridges program,” adds Hayes.

Already, ATP has created connections for students at a number of schools including the AGBU Sisag H. Varjabedian School in Chicago, the Ari Guiragos Minassian School in Santa Ana, CA, St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School in Watertown, MA, and the Hovnanian School in New Milford, NJ.

During a Building Bridges presentation at the AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School in Canoga Park, CA, ATP representatives Jeff Masarjian and Anahit Gharibyan were surprised by a donation from the students to sponsor the planting of 55 trees in Armenia. “For the school’s 35th anniversary, the Elementary Armenian Department wanted to ‘give something to our Homeland,’ so we decided to help turn Armenia green,” explains Armenian teacher Maral Voskian.

A number of schools have partnered with ATP in order to enrich existing teaching material with information about Armenia’s environment. “We see great value in teaming up with ATP because we want our students both to do well academically and socially, and to feel compelled to assist their neighborhoods and communities in meaningful ways. One avenue can be through environmental efforts,” explains Ararat Charter School Principal Aida Tatiossian, from Van Nuys, CA.

“Making connections to the motherland is a very important factor in teaming up with ATP. It’s critical that our students know who they are, where they come from, and feel proud about their culture and heritage. We are constantly exploring new and innovative ways to teach our students about the world around them, and ATP fits into this,” she adds.

“We are extremely proud of the initiative shown by students involved in this program and we are grateful that the trustees of the Thomas A. Kooyumjian Family Foundation have supported Building Bridges as part of their mission to foster a stronger sense of Armenian-American identity. We hope this work strengthens the bonds between Armenia and the Diaspora and further engages young Armenians to become stewards of the environment,” concludes Hayes.

For more information about the Building Bridges Program and to request copies of the educational material, call ATP at (617) 926-8733 or contact Sarah Hayes at sarah@armeniatree.org.

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