BY DIKRAN KHODANIAN
ENCINO—Holy Martyrs Ferrahian Armenian School has been functioning in the San Fernando Valley for over 50 years as the first Armenian-American daily educational institutions in the United States. It is an essential part of the community and has been home to over 2000 graduates. The school currently has about 620 students.
With 2016 approaching, it is only a matter of time until the educational system in America evolves along with the age of technology. In the recent years, we have seen many advancements and great strides in the field of technology. These resources have made life more convenient, and have become a great asset to society.
Several schools have already made significant changes to their classrooms and their campuses in order to become up to date with today’s society.
We reached out to current Principal of Holy Martyrs Ferrahian Armenian School, John Kossakian, and interviewed him about the recent changes Ferrahian has experienced and what changes they were planning for the future of the institution. Kossakian has been the principal of Holy Martyrs Ferrahian Armenian School since 2001. He holds a master’s degree in international relations from University of Southern California and a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from University of California, Los Angeles.
Below is the interview:
DIKRAN KHODANIAN: How have your focuses and goals as a principal changed since you first began your position in 2001?
JOHN KOSSAKIAN: In the initial years of my post, my focus was more towards the achievements made by the students, how our admission rates were for various colleges, and how students were performing on standardized testing. These were the primary concerns originally, but over time other issues and matters came up that needed to be addressed. These included being more sensitive to the demands of parents, which concentrated on day to day concerns like efficiency of teachers, cleanliness of the campus, and the overall increase of extracurricular activities and activism of students in their daily lives. My job shifted from concentrating on the core concerns to concentrating on these additional matters as well as the core concerns.
In the 15 years that I have been here, I have seen a change in the generation of parents as well. They are mostly Armenian American born parents who are very professional and want their children to exceed all type of expectations academically in all subjects, without giving specific concerns to subjects like Armenian.
D.K.: How has Armenian language education changed over time and what tackles have you come across in regards to Armenian language education?
J.K.: Nowadays, technology is even being incorporated for even the Armenian language in addition to all the other subjects. However, we face several difficulties such as the market for software for the Armenian language is limited, as well as being in divided into Western and Eastern Armenian. We see more and more Eastern Armenia softwares coming from Armenia, but very few for Western Armenian speakers so this is a major concern. Another major concern is the lack of a standardized Armenian keyboard. Each program has a different type of keyboard, which becomes confusing.
Also, in today’s age, since different and new ways of teaching the Armenian language are coming into existence, teachers must also learn these new techniques in order to pass it on to the next generation. Teachers must learn to utilize the new Armenian resource and programs in order to teach their students. Lately, we have been using online Armenian dictionaries, and online Armenian literary books, but a challenge we’ve seen has been with the teachers learning these new programs and it varies from teacher to teacher. Some teachers still incorporate their traditional methods, while others learn to integrate technology into their students’ learning process. We are attempting to make the necessary changes but it will take time.
D.K.: What recent changes has Ferrahian made to incorporate technology into their classrooms?
J.K.: We started using technology in the learning process of our students by first bringing in new and state of the art equipment. The changes with equipment eventually lead to changes with content. Some of the new material includes the document camera, which exceeds the pure projection level. It is a very handy and more efficient tool in the classrooms. In addition, we have added 28 classrooms with Smartboards. Smartboards come with many resources which help with daily lesson plans, and provides various activities that help facilitate instruction. Technology has helped the classrooms become more dynamic and interactive. Students are encouraged to use Smartboards and we have seen many students who are capable of using Smartboards.
In addition, because libraries are dying, we have an online library subscription. The school has complete Internet access for all the students and faculty. We have recently updated our website and use different forms of social media such as Facebook, and Instagram, because this has become an appropriate platform in today’s society.
D.K.: What are some of the upcoming plans regarding the construction of the elementary campus in North Hills?
J.K.: It is very clear that majority of the classrooms at the North Hills campus comprise of mobile units. They have been very reliable classrooms because of how safe and stable they are. But these mobile homes were only here temporarily. Since we do have the “conditional use permits” from the city, we decided to build a new elementary school with 20 classrooms with a separate administration building, and a gymnasium with a student center. This student center will include a cafeteria with 4 resource rooms. The whole project will cost around $8million dollars. We will start with the construction of the infrastructure and the plumbing of that new area. Initial planning will take about one year and a half and the construction will take about two to three years in order to complete the first stage which is building 20 classrooms. No estimate regarding the entire completion of the project.
D.K.: How will the construction that is going to take place benefit the students of the campus?
J.K.: The mobile units will not last forever. We are building more stable and long lasting classrooms for our students. We will be able to accommodate more students along with new state of the art buildings. Once the gymnasium is complete, it will provide an indoor playing area, which this school does not have since the playground and basketball courts are all outside. We will be able to avoid weather issues. Overall, it will be better for our future generations and more families will be inclined to have their children enrolled at our school.