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An Interview with Edward Avedisian, Benefactor of the Avedisian School in Yerevan

On Fri., June 22 a groundbreaking ceremony was held on the site where the new Khoren and Shooshanig Avedisian School will be constructed in the Malatia-Sepastia district of Yerevan.

Edward Avedisian stands beside the architectural plan of the new Avedisian School. (Photo by Christian Garbis)

Among the numerous guests present were principal Melania Geghamian, Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA) vice-president Jeanmarie Papelian, and AMAA Armenia deputy representative and operation manager Harout Nercessian.

The Avedisian School that stands today, which was donated by the Armenian government and is operated by the AMAA, is outdated and in partial disrepair. Rather than putting funding into renovations, the school’s grantors, Edward and Pamela Avedisian, decided to build an entirely new structure—a “green” building, the first of its kind in Armenia. It will also carry LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, a widely implemented construction standard in the U.S. The expansive plot of land on Arno Babajanian St. in Sepastia was also donated to the AMAA in 2009 by the Armenian government.

Edward Avedisian is a former clarinetist for the Boston Pops and Boston Ballet Orchestra turned investor and philanthropist. He is also a trustee at the American University of Armenia (AUA) and is a member of the AMAA board of directors. He and his wife have pledged to donate $5 million towards the construction of the new school, with another $5 slated to be raised by donors.

I had the opportunity to talk with Edward Avedisian before the start of the ceremony. Below is the Q&A.

 

Christian Garbis: Please explain the importance of the school and what differentiates it from others in Armenia, Yerevan in particular.

Edward Avedisian making a short speech, flanked by his wife Pamela and Harout Nercessian. (Photo by Christian Garbis)

Edward Avedisian: The new school is scheduled to open in September 2014. As we can see from the plan it looks quite different, and it is. We are using new technologies; it will be sustainable in terms of energy and we will use the wind, water, and different kinds of insulation to make it more efficient. More importantly, this will be the most earthquake resistant building in all of Armenia. Also, because there’s so much interest in what will be a LEED building with these new technologies, the structure under construction becomes a laboratory. Architects and designers will come to see how these efficiencies will be implemented.

The building will be positioned to make the most of efficiency from natural sunlight, so that overhead lamps will not be necessary in the day, with one side of the school to be made almost entirely of glass. For students there will be a focus on renewable energy education.

Students of the Avedisian School. (Photo by Christian Garbis)

The NST Architecture Studio based in Yerevan conceived it with the enormous help of Ronald Altoon of Altoon Partners in Los Angeles, who designed the Paramaz Avedisian Building at AUA. So this is a cutting-edge building. We need energy in Armenia and we’re going to hopefully be producing so much energy during the summer when the school is closed that we can push it back into the system and get credit for it.

 

C.G.: Can you tell me more abut the curriculum of the school?

E.A.: The curriculum of the school is government mandated. It is a public school, to service the children in this area who are particularly needy. We started here in 1999 in a very dilapidated building. The government was kind enough to give us this land on a 99-year lease. We have grown from 75 students to over 300, and when we finish here we’ll have over 500 students.

 

C.G.: Why was this site chosen for the school?

E.A.: Well, it was available and it is close to the present school. It is an expansive land that we thought we could use because beyond what you see here [points to the right side of the building plan] is an elementary school, so it’s a campus. There will be elementary, middle, and high schools right here. On the top floor will be a glass enclosed area, a conservatory, which will be a place for students to experiment in environment studies about heat and light, how its diffused, and how this building can be more efficient. Not only that, we don’t want the building to be the last one. We hope that the building that will subsequently be built will be better than this one. And here’s where we start, here’s where we’re going to experiment. We know what experiments we’re going to run, we know they’re good, and we hope to prove it.

 

C.G.: So this will be a model for future schools, not only in Yerevan but all over Armenia?

E.A.: Exactly. Not only that, we have very stringent and high standards of accomplishment for students in this school. They are continually winning prizes in competitions countrywide, two years in a row in Russian-language competency with different teams. Also in 2010 we held the first prize in French competency. The scores in math and sciences are very, very high, so we’re pleased with the quality. The building represents the quality of thought of the most advanced design. The kids on the inside exemplify the most advanced quality of education. Our teachers are excellent—all they need is a chance to teach. And we need to bring to them a living wage. With that, there’s no problem.

Students place a time capsule containing a proclamation of the school’s mission and objective into the ground. (Photo by Christian Garbis)

There’s a lot of tremendous teaching that can go on, and we have the benefit of excellent teachers. We will not leave any child behind and we will get them to

do the best they can. If for some reason they are not eligible to go to a university, we will provide them with training in a field of expertise to make a living. So we’re trying to cover the entire picture.

In addition, as part of a long-range plan because of my connection with AUA, any child that comes through this school starting at age three can go through here without paying anything. He or she can proceed and go to AUA the same way, without paying any money. If he or she can pass the entrance exams, they’re accepted. So with the money raised to fund their educations, a child can go from kindergarten to getting a master’s and hopefully soon a doctoral degree, taught right here in this country with the best teachers.

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Christian Garbis

Christian Garbis is a writer and experimental filmmaker born and raised in Greater Boston. He received his BA in English and Certificate in Film Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He has been contributing to the Armenian Weekly since 1994 and has served as an assistant editor for the paper. He lives in Yerevan with his wife and son and maintains two blogs documenting his impressions: Notes From Hairenik and Footprints Armenia. His first novel is partly based on his experiences in Armenia.

4 Comments

  1. avatar Bedros Zerdelian June 29, 2012

    Sireli Edward,
    CONGRATULATIONS!
    God bless your mission
    Is not how we are going to start
    The reality is how we are going to end up.

  2. avatar VTiger June 30, 2012

    What an honorable project.I’m so proud of Mr. & Mrs. Avedissian.Our schools in Armenia are in dire need & the diaspora has to invest on schools & on the future of our generations & country.
    Makes me so proud & humble at the same.

  3. avatar Irene P Karayan January 9, 2014

    Pam & Ed . What a project ! Congratulations. I would like to participate in a humble way to you efforts in making this happen.I am sponsoring 2 boys ,orphans from a small city near Yerevan. That project was started after the death of Christophe our 3rd son in 2008 , Tony passed away in 02 2011. The project continues .
    May 2014 gives you health , strength to continue your endeavors .
    God bless,

    Irene Karayan , Newton MA.

  4. avatar Gina January 9, 2014

    What a great way to help our homeland! Thank you so much, Mr.& Mrs. Avedisan. I have heard about your contributions to the American University of Armenia, too. God bless you.

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