Armenia's Minister of Diaspora visits Jefferson Elementary

Four years after launching the district's first Armenian heritage program at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, Glendale Unified officials on Wednesday welcomed Armenia's Minister of Diaspora Affairs Hranush Hakobyan to the site.

“I am absolutely thrilled and impressed with how our kids in such a short period can be perfectly fluent in both languages, Armenian and English,” Hakobyan said through a translator.

Hakobyan toured classrooms where students, many wearing traditional Armenian clothing, greeted her with songs, poems and small gifts.

“It was absolutely moving,” she said of her reception. “There are quite a few Armenian schools, but this being an American school with an American curriculum with the Armenian classes, it is in many ways unique, and that is what makes us impressed.”

Only about one third — roughly 3.3 million — of Armenians live in Armenia, while the rest reside abroad in Russia, the United States, Australia, France and others. Hakobyan is responsible for serving Armenian Diaspora communities around the world. Her visit to Glendale was one in a multi-legged trip that will also take her to northern California and Canada, and it drew dozens of parents and community members to Jefferson Elementary.

“It speaks volumes of the hard work that the kids and school administrators and teachers are doing to provide the dual-language opportunities for our families in Glendale,” district Supt. Richard Sheehan said of the minister’s visit.

Jefferson’s Armenian program, which since its inception has been expanded and converted into one of the district’s flagship Foreign Language Academies of Glendale (FLAG) programs, now includes nine classrooms, kindergarten through fourth grade. It will continue to grow until there is at least one dual-language classroom at every grade level.

Instruction is conducted half in English and half in Armenian, with the intent that students will master both languages fluently. Students are also exposed to Armenian history and culture.

The program currently enrolls 209 students, and the demand is high, said Jefferson Principal Greg Mooshagian.

“There are always waiting lists every year of over 100 kids,” Mooshagian said. “Students can attend from our district as well as other surrounding districts. We draw from as far as Sun Valley, L.A. Unified, Burbank.”

Growing up in Connecticut, he was the only Armenian-American student at his school, said Glendale Unified school board President Greg Krikorian. But students in Glendale have the opportunity to learn the language of their parents and grandparents, and to hold on to some of their history, he added.

“Look what is happening to our kids today and…what we are providing,” Krikorian said. “I couldn’t be more proud of these kids. And it is blessing for us [to have] you here today to see what we are doing in the community, in the Diaspora.”

School officials said they hope to continue build the relationship between the district and Armenia’s diplomatic corps as a way to enhance the exchange that is taking place.

“I myself grew up in Glendale schools and my mom had to take me once a week to a private place in order for me to learn and maintain my language,” said Nooneh Corluyan, a teacher specialist with the FLAG Armenian programs. “But [current students] have it here with public education.”

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