BY HRACHE NOVRUZYAN
As time progresses, the role of an Armenian school tends to change within the community. It must adjust to the most current standards of education as well as the most up to date needs of the student.
Ari Guiragos Minassian Armenian School was founded in Santa Ana in 1986. AGM provides students with a quality academic curriculum in a bilingual environment that makes for safe nurturing environment.
Unlike some other Armenian schools, AGM only serves to students until 6th grade. Therefore, certain issues and goals that the school addresses vary as well. We interviewed AGM Principal Kohar Zaher to see how the school is tackling some of the challenges they experience today and how they are progressing as a school.
HRACHE NOVRUZYAN: Looking forward, what are some changes foreseen at AGM?
KOHAR ZAHER: We constantly strive to improve in academics. Currently, our goal is to improve students’ reading comprehension and writing as stated in our Action Plan for WASC (Western Associations for Schools and Colleges). To achieve this goal, we have invested in Renaissance STAR Reading, STAR Math, and Accelerated Reader programs. These programs allow students to progress at their own pace and help them achieve their individual goals. We are also focusing on improving student writing by implementing the “Step-up to Writing” program. These improvements are ongoing. Some changes that I foresee for the future is to incorporate STEM education into our curriculum, in addition to offering it as an after-school program.
H.N.: How is the Armenian curriculum being integrated with common core practices? What steps is AGM taking to make the teaching of Armenian more accessible to the students?
K.Z.: Common Core emphasizes critical thinking and requires students to analyze and explain their understanding at a deeper level. The same concept applies to the Armenian subjects. At AGM, the Armenian subject teachers have been emphasizing critical thinking questions that are more specific and require a closer reading of the text. Students are encouraged to draw conclusions from the text and explain the evidence orally and in writing. We offer extra support to students by pulling them from class during Armenian and teaching them individually or in small groups. We have started an after-school Armenian Homework Club for all students who need extra help. Parents have been very happy and supportive with this club.
H.N.: Why should parents send their kids to AGM vs. other local public schools?
K.Z.: Besides offering quality education, AGM’s small class size allows teachers to individualize instruction. Students get a well-rounded education in a safe environment. Spanish classes are offered to second through sixth grade students and Instrumental Music (violin, viola, and cello) to third through sixth grade students. In art, we implement the “Meet the Masters” program. The art teacher introduces the students to the “Armenian Masters” as well. After-school programs include Chess Club, Lego Robotics, and soccer for preschool through second grade. Most importantly, connecting to one’s roots, building lifelong friendships, learning the Armenian language, history, religion, culture and heritage are all invaluable reasons that are offered only in an Armenian school.
H.N.: What steps does AGM take to prepare its students for the non-Armenian public schools they transfer to after the 6th grade?
K.Z.: Having a solid foundation at AGM prepares the students to transition smoothly to public and/or non-Armenian private schools. We teach students universal values that are common to all people including acceptance and tolerance. As Armenians living in the Diaspora, we are truly global citizens, not bound by any territory, respecting the rules and values of the countries we live in yet holding on to our core values. With this in mind, we offer students ample opportunities to expose them to other cultures and places such as International Day, Geography Bee, Walk through History, science camp, field trips, etc.
H.N.: What do you see the role of Armenian schools in the future?
K.Z.: Our forefathers had the vision to establish schools, churches, and cultural institutions in the Diaspora to preserve the Armenian identity. Our role is to continue and build upon the solid foundations that were established. The Armenian school is at the forefront in our determination to keep our language and culture alive.
H.N.:The generation that is currently enrolled is being identified as Generations Z, what are some of the ways that the school is changing to address that, especially the technological advances that are available to students?
K.Z.: AGM is constantly updating its curricular programs to address the changing needs of the generation identified as Generation Z. At this time, shorter and more interactive classroom sessions, social media awareness, and global connectivity are being considered. As stated in our mission, we prepare global citizens of this planet while instilling in them pride in their Armenian roots.