Back to School in Covid-19 Pandemic

A classroom in the Glendale Unified School District ready to be used as distant learning
Catherine Yesayan

Catherine Yesayan

BY CATHERINE YESAYAN

Covid-19 has modified our sense of normalcy. The most drastic change, I believe, is the distant learning of our school children.

Let’s have a look into the schools in my neck of the woods and see how the Glendale school district is providing assistance to families. A day before the opening of Glendale schools, on August 18, CNN published an interview with Vivian Ekchian, the Superintendent of Glendale Unified School District.

Dr. Ekchian, with her Armenian roots and her extensive experience in public schools, is an invaluable asset to GUSD. Before coming to Glendale, she was the Acting Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest school district in the nation, serving nearly 600,000 Pre-K through adult student learners. Ekchian, in May of 2019, became the first woman and the first Armenian-American to be the chief officer for the Glendale school district, which has the nation’s largest population of Armenians.

The CNN interview was mainly about the innovative plans the Glendale school district has made to provide child care for students whose parents cannot stay at home and the kids need a safe place where they can carry on with their distant learning.

This is how the plan is devised: during the pandemic, students who do not have supervision at home can physically attend school and use the classrooms as a safe place to follow the instructions of distant learning with the guidance of assistants present only to monitor and support. Each classroom is set up for only 12 kids. The desks will be 6’ apart, and all the measures of COVID prevention will be administered.

At the interview, Dr. Ekchian, was asked how she came up with the idea of providing child care? She said, “During school town-hall meetings, I learned that some parents need to have child care, so I came up with the idea of turning classrooms into “technology learning pods” or child care stations, for elementary kids.”

Each classroom will be supervised by two district staffers who will not be teaching, but present only to offer technical assistance, monitor students to use masks, enforce social distancing and keep students focused on their work.

A classroom in the Glendale Unified School District ready to be used as distant learning

A classroom in the Glendale Unified School District ready to be used as distant learning

In addition, the Glendale school district is providing free meals to all students. Parents can pick up the foods in different stations throughout Glendale. Another support plan is to provide computers and WiFi to families who need them. The amount of 18,000 technology devices for kids to use them for their distant learning has been distributed.

My next stop is at Vahan & Anoush Chamlian Armenian school in Glendale. The school is one of the Prelacy schools in California, governed by Board of Regents of Prelacy Armenian Schools. The school was founded in 1975.

Although the parents are facing the challenge of paying tuition, this year the Chamilian school is at its capacity of 700 students. The school offers classes from Kindergarten to 8th grade. During this pandemic, the school is adhering to local and state safety guidelines and is offering distant learning to its students.

In this tumultuous time of Covid-19 pandemic, on Monday August 17, in our neighboring city of Pasadena, an Armenian Academy was born.  Let me take you to Pasadena and tell you the story behind the inception of this fantastic Academy.

In June of 2020, the AGBU Manoukian high school in Pasadena, shut its doors for obscure reasons. A small group of outraged parents and community members gathered and explored various possibilities to create a new facility in Pasadena where the Armenian children could continue to learn about their culture, language, history, and literature.

The group, in a true team effort, worked tirelessly towards their mission. They initiated many talks and numerous meetings with executives of Pasadena Unified School District, and finally, they were able to create an Armenian Academy within the walls of Blair High School.

Academy teachers Noraryr Daduryan, Jenny Yessayan, and clerk/liasion Datev Karapetyan

Academy teachers Noraryr Daduryan, Jenny Yessayan, and clerk/liasion Datev Karapetyan

On Monday, August 17, the dream became a reality as students at the Armenian Academy at Blair High School, began the first day of class. Despite, the classes being online, the  Academy teachers Noraryr Daduryan, Jenny Yessayan, and clerk/liaison Datev Karapetyan had everything in place for a welcoming introduction for the kids.

Blair High School is a successful international baccalaureate school designed to challenge students with rigorous college-level classes. The best-performing students from Blair have been accepted to top universities around the nation, including Johns Hopkins, Stanford, Harvard, UCLA, and UC Berkeley among many others. We look forward to our Armenian Academy students joining those ranks.

The impetus of this wonderful concept was Maro Najarian Yacoubian. I asked her, what was the biggest challenge. She shared: “I would say the biggest challenge was the communication obstacles thrown in our way because of the Covid. No town hall meetings, no big tours of the school. A lot of work and creativity in order to get the word out to people.”

The Armenian Academy has started on such strong footing. For now, 70 kids are signed up. The academy is tuition-free and open to all students who want to follow Armenian studies, from all over the Los Angeles and Orange county.

Catherine Yesayan is a regular contributor to Asbarez, with her columns appearing under the “Community Links”  heading. She can be reached at [email protected]

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2 Comments

  1. Mary Najarian said:

    Your article covering the pandemic and the the changes they are making in schools was very creative. I also learned more about the Armenian Academy at Blair high school in your article. I was pleasantly surprised about the academy offering International Baccalaureate. How proud we must be if our Armenian students graduate with International baccalaureate. I have no doubts they will.

  2. Armen Amiri said:

    I loved the neck of the woods expression you used in this article. I like your penmanship which is simple, clean-cut and to the point.

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