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  • All L.A. Unified schools in the San Fernando Valley will be closed through Friday, as well as 17 on the Westside. After two days of closure for all Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District schools, Malibu's public schools will remain closed Friday. Santa Monica's will open. More information here.
  • An outside panel hopes to help the L.A. Unified School District launch some pilot programs that could spread to all schools.
K-12LAUSD

Inside the first Armenian dual-language classes in L.A. Unified

Kindergarten student Mary Saroyan, center, raises her hand in LAUSD's first English/Armenian dual-language program at Mountain View Elementary School in Tujunga. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Kindergarten student Mary Saroyan, center, raises her hand in LAUSD's first English/Armenian dual-language program at Mountain View Elementary School in Tujunga. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

At Mountain View Elementary School in Tujunga about three-fourths of the population is of Armenian heritage. Parents have been looking for years for a way to pass on the language and culture to their children. 

Some left for the neighboring Glendale Unified School District, which has had an Armenian dual-immersion program for years.

Shakeh Ayvazian, a Los Angeles Unified School District parent community facilitator, noticed that parents were making moves to leave for other districts, and worked with them to push for a similar program in L.A. Unified.

That was five years ago, she said. Last year, Mountain View launched a pilot program with two kindergarten classes. Students spent half their time in a classroom in which their teacher spoke only Armenian to them and half their time in an English-speaking classroom. 

On Tuesday, the school expanded the program to first grade, with hopes to add a grade each year up to fifth grade. About 80 students are in the program, about half classified as English learners, said principal Richard Guillen.

Most L.A. Unified students who are English learners speak Spanish as a primary language. But Armenian comes next, according to state data. Close to 5,500 L.A. Unified students start school speaking mostly Armenian.

Some parents whose children speak English well still want them in the dual-language program so that they will feel more connected to their heritage. 

"At a young age, to learn the culture and language is the best time," said Marine Lousparian, the mother of  6-year-old Emma Tumanian, who just started first grade.

Emma was part of last year's inaugural dual-immersion class. 

“I’m really trying to be very mindful of ... what parents are saying they’re interested in," said L.A. Unified Supt. Michelle King. "And then trying to really deliver on that. And then hopefully we’ll be able to grow enrollment.”

During a time when other district schools are losing families, Guillen said the program has helped grow Mountain View's enrollment.  Last year the K-5 school had around 360 students. This year enrollment is currently at around 395, he said.

"I had to bring in new staff" for the Armenian classes, he said.

While the program is only for current kindergarten and first-grade students, "they come with siblings too," Guillen said.

Some parents who first pushed for the program won't be able to take advantage of it, though — only incoming kindergarten students can join as newcomers.

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