BY SOSE´ HOVANNISIAN
On March 12, Holy Martyrs Ferrahian High School Principal Sossi Shanlian announced a two-week hiatus due to the increasing risks of the coronavirus.
Some of the students quietly cheered, thinking this was nothing more than an early spring break; little did they know that the gloomy, rainy day would be our last on campus.
During those two weeks, while the student body reveled in the surprise mini-vacation, the administration and faculty remained at school, busily implementing a remote learning program in the event of an extended stay-at-home order. And as fate would have it, that is exactly what happened.
Based in large part on the expertise of technology director Ara Chouljian, Ferrahian promptly and smoothly transitioned its classes into a virtual format through a software program known as Zoom. The teachers, too, were quick to hone their remote instruction skills and enabled a largely seamless transition. As formal online sessions began after two weeks, our sophomore class jumped into graphing logarithms and finishing Orwell’s 1984 from the comfort of our own homes, and for some, from our beds.
But of course, nothing beats being at school. Walking into our small and happy gym and classrooms every morning was comforting. Ferrahian is, after all, our home. And so while we were blessed to have been given the best remote instruction available, we collectively yearned to return to our school, where the hallways have always been filled with laughter and the sound of slamming lockers, where the gym echoes with the sounds of spirited Armens basketball practices, and where the students come together as one large extended family.
The pandemic has deprived all of us of our Armenian school experience. What I will miss most is that “perfect ending to a school year.” Our last day of school would always consist of smiles, tears, pot lucks, and unprecedented water fights, which Vice-Principal Baron Nalbandian was never too fond of. Unfortunately, none of that happened this year. Junior Tara Ourfalian added, “Our class was extremely disheartened to hear that our very highly anticipated trip to Armenia would have to be canceled as well. Throughout high school, we have all looked forward to when we would visit our mother country and finally embrace our nation’s rich culture and history in person rather than through a textbook.”
Nevertheless, students also recognized and appreciated the efforts made by the school during these challenging times.
“Completing school in the middle of a worldwide pandemic and nationwide quarantine wasn’t something we were used to, but with the patience and endurance from our teachers, we got it done,” said 10th grader Alicia Manouk.
Junior Eric Yenikomshian also saw the silver lining of this otherwise dreary time
“I have learned to be a more patient person, and am more appreciative of the basic yet essential aspects of life, such as having the comfort of a home, availability of food and water, and a loving family. Online schooling at Ferrahian was also a huge success as I was able to continue my education thanks to the help of our hardworking teachers and staff who assigned just the right amount of work and prepared us for our AP exams,” said Yenikomshian.
His classmate, Alec Minassian, said, “The teachers have offered a quick and productive transition into an entirely new landscape, and although we miss the social interaction, the way we’ve found comfort in this new endeavor has genuinely changed the student body for the better.”
Naturally, the interruption of the school calendar was most detrimental to our graduating middle school and senior classes. After all, this was to be the culmination of years of hard work and sacrifice.
“As an eighth-grade student, I along with my classmates were impatiently waiting for our East Coast Trip and Promotion to High School,” eighth-grade graduate Aiki Kassabian explained.
“Events such as senior prom, grad night, verchin zank (the last bell), and my graduation, which I had been looking forward to since the sixth grade, were taken from me,” said graduating senior Hoorig Sarkissian, who will be attending UCLA in the fall.
Still, even these graduating students emphasized their appreciation for their Ferrahian experience. Regarding her eighth-grade class graduation, Kassabian added, “We were pleased with our drive-through graduation at school. Short and sweet, our class made memories with that drive-by that we can happily look back at in a few years.”
The teachers, too, had positive experiences during this time.
“While remote learning made it difficult to monitor student engagement, especially with students’ videos turned off during Zoom sessions, and limited face to face interactions, discussions, and collaboration, the online platforms allowed for shorter synchronous class time, and the ability for students to work at their own pace. My students impressed me with their honest, positive, enthusiastic, open-minded approach to the challenges of online learning, but we all look forward to the day where we can return to our safe, lively, student-centered classroom,” high school English Teacher Arpine Barseghyan, explained.
Science Department Head, Rozi Ourfalian added, “As educators, we wanted to make sure our students were feeling supported and getting the best educational experience they deserved. While teaching through Zoom was convenient, I did miss the special environment we had created in our classroom along with the close connections and intriguing discussions we would have.”
And there you have it. A pandemic can have an immense, adverse impact on a small school like ours. But at Ferrahian, we don’t view the glass as half empty or half full. We face the challenges head-on, make the best of the circumstances, and enjoy the full glass of our appreciation and success.
Sose´ Hovannisian will be a junior at Holy Martyrs Ferrahian High School in the fall. She is the 2020 Asbarez summer intern.