Radnor Township was first settled in 1663 by a group of 40 Quakers from Radnorshire, Wales. Today, the bucolic town with lush greenery and winding roads happens to be home to an Armenian day school—Armenian Sisters Academy. The first of its kind on the east coast of the U.S, Armenian Sisters Academy started out as a two-room facility with an initial enrollment of 12 preschool/kindergarten children in 1967.
It’s a June day in 2019. I’m one of hundreds in an assembly beaming with pride. Before us, the stage is set in gold and blue. Sister Emma Moussayan, who lovingly attends to each and every need of her students, presents a handful of Armenian eighth graders who will be attending some of the most respected high schools in that region in the fall. Thanks to these loving sisters and staff, these young people have been armed with the shield of faith and the strength of their mother tongue. I watched with pride as my niece Noemie recited in perfect Armenian.
The ruminating teacher in me started to count the number of students on the stage. Thirteen. That means that this year only 13 students in the state of Pennsylvania have been trained in formal Armenian. I asked my sister how many Armenian K-8 schools are on the east coast. It is my understanding that there are a mere handful. On average they probably have the same small class size (the greatest benefit of a school), which leads to the idea that there are about 50 students on the east coast who are well-versed in the Armenian language, culture, religion and identity.
Ասացէ՛ք, եղբարք, հայեր, ի՞նչ անենք…Հիմի՞ է՛լ լռենք։
As a teacher, I am constantly asked this question: “What makes a school successful?” After spending 21 years in the classroom, seeing thousands of children travel through the halls, participating in numerous training sessions and workshops and earning several degrees and credentials, I have the same answer: character.
Researchers have published meta-analyses of emotional and social learning skills and have realized that soft skills are the main elements that not only make a school work, but are catalysts for successful children. Soft skills include self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. Add bilingual education and immersion, a cultural, faith-based education with small class sizes and a tight-knit community, and you have the perfect recipe for well-balanced, successful, high achieving, humble and happy kids.
How long shall we be mute as the enemies of assimilation and language loss surround us?
Armenian schools have always produced some of the most exceptional and successful adults. We look at the numerous professionals who excel in their fields. We look at just this year’s graduates from Armenian schools in California who have been accepted to all of the most prestigious high schools and universities. We look at the eighth grade graduates from the Armenian Sisters Academy and their dedication to not only preserving Armenian culture, but to the task (which their vice principal mentioned) of being the guardians of their Armenian heritage. I can only sit perplexed and befuddled as to why any Armenian parent in their right mind would not invest in the future of our heritage. It pays dividends and is a bullish investment.
These schools have a purpose and a mission in guiding their classrooms on foreign lands not with the question, “What do we teach our students?” but rather, “What are the behaviors we want to achieve?” I am humbled by the dedication of Sister Emma, a small-framed, but big-hearted powerhouse of a woman of faith who carries the torch of our people by guiding our children to become members of a Diaspora that has mutual respect for their American identity, faith and roots.
I understand – we are the generation that prides ourselves on more education, more financial power and deeper knowledge of the American infrastructure – that we are acutely aware of the pressures of success and the insecurities of being a “model minority” in the United States. Our generation needs science to justify everything—from what we watch on YouTube to what sports our children play. Education is not exempt. All the evidence accumulates in favor of what Armenian schools offer, and we have an obligation to make sure that our children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren are not denied the inalienable right of knowing their mother tongue and flourishing in small, loving classroom pods tended by committed teachers who live and breathe the Latin rule of teaching “In loco parentis” – in the absence of the parent, I.
Ասացէ՛ք, եղբարք, հայեր, ի՞նչ անենք, Հիմի՞ է՛լ լռենք։
How long shall we be silent? How long shall we be mute as the enemies of assimilation and language loss surround us?
Like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, “When I discover who I am, I will be free,” each and every speech presented by the graduates of the Armenian Sisters Academy exemplified the freedom of speaking in one’s mother tongue—identity. “Even silent stones when broken, find tongues as they break. We are sons (and daughters) of courageous men…what road shall we take?” This is the battle cry of Armenian educators in the Diaspora. “For those who want to live as slaves, let silence reign for them. But let the brave speak up and march to fight again.”
The Armenian people, in our need for self-actualization and self-preservation, must arm our children with the tools to succeed. If there’s an Armenian school near you, send your kids. If there isn’t an Armenian school, start one. Our children refuse to be shackled by the inability to think, speak and dream in our mother tongue. They refuse to be “invisible men.” These Armenian schools have the power to equip our young people with the tools to be free.