Education: Reassessing the Changing Armenian American Identity

The conference organized by the Board of Regents of Prelacy Armenian Schools came to a successful end on the evening of Saturday–June 5. During the two day conference–Armenian daily school principals and teachers–university professors–psychologists–education consultants–and professionals from Canada and Eastern and Western United States gather at Woodbury University in Burbank to analyze the variety of challenges that Armenian education and instruction face.

In the audience to mark the conference’s opening on the morning of Friday–June 4–were Prelate Bishop Mousegh Mardirossian–Woodbury University president Kenneth R. Nielsen–Ed.D.–Armenian daily school principles and teachers. In opening the conference–Board of Regents Executive Administrator Hovan Tashjian articulated the goals of the conference and welcomed Prelate Bishop Mousegh Mardirossian to offer his benediction. The Prelate Bishop commended conference organizers–noting that "such meetings–conferences and seminars grant its participants the opportunity to add to their knowledge and experience."

After the recital of the American and Armenian pledges by Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School student Mary Tahanian–Woodbury University President Kenneth R. Nielsen–Ed.D. welcomed participants and expressed great joy that the sessions were being held at an educational institute where twenty percent of the student population is of Armenian descent. Nielsen presented the educational profile of the university and described its programs–then wished participants success in achieving their academic goals.

On behalf of the Board of Regents–Armine Hagopian–Ph.D.–thanked Nielsen for his unwavering support of the program–specifically his efforts to secure the halls and accommodations on the Woodbury campus free of charge.

As a token of appreciation–Hagopian presented Nielson a copy of Rescued Armenian Treasures from Cilicia–and donated copies of Dr. Rubina Peroomian’s Literary Response to Catastrophe–A comparison of the Armenian and Jewish Experiences–and Levon Abrahamian and Nancy Sweezy’s Armenian Folk Arts–Culture–and Identity to the university library. After Hagopian’s remarks–Hovan Tashjian thanked Nielsen’s Executive Assistant Seta Javor for her assistence–presenting to her a copy of Henrik Iguitian Gallery Noah’s Ark.

In his remarks–Board of Regents Chairman Yeznig Kazandjian focused on the pivotal role of Armenian school educators and discussed the necessity to prepare a new generation of properly trained teachers to follow in their predecessors’ paths. Directing his commen’s to the high school students in the audience–Kazanjian spoke of his hope to see students enter the teaching profession. Univerity of California–Los Angeles Research Associate Dr. Rubina Peroomian followed Kazanjian–to provide the audience with a general overview of the conference program–which focused primarily on the need to assess existing Armenian education and Armenian studies programs.

Before the start of first Friday session–noted Canadian-Armenian writer and publisher Vrej Armen Artinian presented an essay written exclusively for the conference–addressing the Armenian day school experience during the past forty years.

Chaired by Dr. Maral Yeran’ssian of Rose & Alex Pilibos Armenian School–the first Friday session "Development of the Armenian American Cultural Identity: A Sociological Perspective," featured a presentation by Ph.D. candidate Yeprem Mihranian of the University of Massachusetts–Amherst.

Session panelists were Los Angeles Unified School District psychologist Jeannine Topalian–University of La Verne Ph.D. candidate Sylvia Shirikian–principal of Mesrobian Armenian School Hilda Saliba and principal of the Krouzian Zakarian Vasbouragan Armenian School Olia Yenikomshian.

The second session–"Development of the Armenian American Cultural Identity: A Psychological Perspective," was chaired by Dr. Armine Hacopian and featured a presentation by Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School principal Dr. Viken Yacoubian. Assistant Principal of Curriculum and Instruction at Pasadena High School Marisa Sarian–along with clinical psychologist Dr. Nora Sahakian–Jeannine Topalian–Sylvia Shirikian and Assadour Assadourian of the Ari Guiragos Minassian Armenian School served as the session panelists. Concepts about a child’s identification with a particular grouping–and his/her relation with members of other cultural–racial–and ethnic groups were dissected and analyzed during the two sessions. The panelists along with other participants systematically explored the sociological and psychological relevance of cultural identity development of Armenian American students.

Before Saturday’s first session–Hovan Tashjian explained that the start of the conference was briefly delayed in order to give participants enough time to attend the funeral of beloved teacher and longtime Holy Martyrs Elementary and Ferrahian High School faculty member Eugene Bedrosian. Tashjian asked the attendees to honor her memory by observing a moment of silence.

Titled "Pedagogical Challenges in Armenian Education and Instruction," the first session dealt with the battle Armenian-American students face in successfully integrating the various components of their cultural identity into a constructive whole. Hovsep Injejikian–principal of the Alfred & Margaret Hovsepian Armenian School in Pasadena–California chaired the session–during which Dr. Peroomian and educational consultant David Ghougassian made presentations. Session panelists were Charlotte & Elise Merdinian Armenian Evangelical School principal Dr. Vahram Shemmassian–principal of the Toronto ARS Kololian Armenian School Markar Sharapkhanian–Arshag Dikranian Armenian School principal Vartkes Kourouyan–Minas Kojayan of the AGBU Manoogian-Demirjian Armenian School and Tsoline Shamelian of the St. Hagop Armenian School of Montreal. Participants detailed the methodology of teaching Armenian subject matters in schools–during the second Saturday session "Armenian Education and the Reassessment of the Armenian Curriculum." Chaired by Hagop Bulgarian–principal of the St. Hagop Armenian School of Montreal–and featuring presentations by principals Hagop Hagopian of the AGBU Manoogian Demirjian Armenian School and John Kossakian of Holy Martyrs Ferrahian Armenian School–the session allowed participants the chance to offer thoughts on how to reshape traditional curricula in the face of emerging trends and necessities. The panel was composed of Vartan Matossian of the New Jersey’s Hovnanian Armenian School–Vache Mangerian of the Sahag Mesrob Armenian Christian School of Pasadena–Hasmig Babian of the ARS Kololian Armenian School of Toronto and Vazken Madenlian–principal of the Vahan & Anoush Chamelian Armenian School.

The conference came to a successful end on Saturday evening. Its participants attempted to mold new approaches based the lessons cultivated from the forty year long history of the Armenian school system in North America. The diverse sessions featured experienced educators and professionals who discussed various approaches to tackle concerns in the world of Armenian academia. Although educators can rarely predict the problems that may arise within the schools of Diasporan communities–sessions–such as the one organized by the Board of Regents–are framed to help teachers meet future challenges.


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