CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Children’s book author and St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School (SSAES) teacher Alik Arzoumanian has started producing virtual Armenian language storytime sessions. Arzoumanian, who is practicing social distancing at home amid the global pandemic of the coronavirus, just posted her first video on Tuesday on her brand new YouTube channel—a lively reading of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham in Armenian (Կանաչ Հաւկիթ եւ Խոզապուխտ).
In the video, Arzoumanian is heard off-camera emotively reading the ever popular 1960 classic in the Western Armenian dialect—a challenging first choice for the Pobig Dodig author who says she has been spontaneously translating books in the English language for her children for years. Now, she’s doing the same for her kindergarteners in Watertown, who loved her recent in-class Armenian reading of Green Eggs and Ham on Dr. Seuss’ birthday. “I had some free time this week, [so] I made this video for them,” explained Arzoumanian. “Everyone is stuck at home, and we all need all the resources we can get!”
The five-minute video has become an instant attraction and has already garnered over 500 views with many parents inside and outside the SSAES community sharing their excitement and extending their gratitude to Arzoumanian for this small, but meaningful production—a familiar voice offering a brief respite for Diasporan families struggling to navigate these unprecedented circumstances.
SSAES shuttered its doors on Friday in response to local mandates to slow the community spread of COVID-19. Arzoumanian tells the Weekly that teachers had been bracing for this possibility, preparing work packets and daily schedules in advance. “We did take the prospect of prolonged school closures seriously,” she explained. Pre-schoolers are now logging on to virtual circle time, while elementary school students, like Arzoumanian’s third grader, are signing on to video conference calls with their classmates and teachers.
Arzoumanian says she is planning more installments in the coming days and weeks. She wants to introduce her mother’s translation of her personal favorite Where the Wild Things Are and is also preparing readings of a few books in the Elephant and Piggie series. Arzoumanian, a talented illustrator and artist, is also thinking about arts and crafts tutorials in Armenian. “For many children in our community, school is the only place where they hear and speak Armenian,” said Arzoumanian of her unique initiative in Armenian education during this global pandemic. “Being home for weeks will take that away from them, unless their parents have resources such as audio books and videos like this.”
The mother of two also offered comforting advice for parents juggling sudden homeschooling and their own work responsibilities. “Bedtimes might be later, our kids might have longer screen time than usual, but as long as they have a schedule that includes getting dressed in the morning, schoolwork, going out for physical activity, some quiet games and creative time, they will feel safe and cared for, and I think that’s what they need to be happy.”