The Armenian people hold many important values, one of which is the Armenian school. An Armenian school is the driving force of an Armenian community. The AYF-YOARF Central Language Council (CLC) has been tasked with the important role of spreading the significance of our mother tongue among the youth in the Eastern Region. We see the need for a language reawakening generation by generation, as descendants of Armenian Genocide survivors fall victim to inevitable assimilation. There is a dire need for a language reawakening year after year, as attendance in Armenian schools and Armenian language proficiency in the diaspora continue to decrease.
The AYF-YOARF Eastern Region CLC is taking a stand against language assimilation as we call for Armenians across the Eastern Region to choose Armenian schools.
A common theme we found while interviewing AYF members who have attended Armenian schools in the Eastern Region is that these schools have been a foundation for building their identity.
“As I’ve gotten older, the indispensable value of having attended Armenian school has been made clear time and time again. I am so grateful for the foundations it gave me in my language, history and culture,” shared Lorie Simonian, a former student of Mourad Azkayin Armenian School of Providence, RI.
We believe that Armenian schools are designed to help our next generation prosper by focusing on academic excellence, multilingual expression and community building, helping students develop a rich Armenian identity that is critical to instill at a young age as Armenians living in the diaspora.
Day schools include a variety of subjects in Armenian and English language, arts, humanities, Armenian studies and STEM classes. We also have exquisite one-day schools, whether it be Saturdays or Sundays, that provide communities without the privilege of having everyday Armenian instruction, the ability to stay rooted in Armenianness. Kristine Antanesian, a graduate of Hamasdegh Armenian Sunday School in Washington, DC, and a senior member of the AYF Washington DC “Ani” Chapter, is a phenomenal example of the success of Armenian schools. “I met my first Armenian friends at Armenian school. Although it was unbeknownst to me then, they would be the ones to introduce me to community organizations and show me what it means to stand up for truth and justice,” said Antanesian. “They are the ungers I’ve cried on, yelled with and learned from. In a world full of uncertainty, I am most certain that these will be the ungers that see me to the end.” An Eastern Armenian speaker, the Antanesian family’s decision to enroll their daughter in a Western Armenian Sunday school program led her to discovering Hai Tahd, while also enriching her language skills and staying connected to Armenian culture.
We want to be clear that students who attend Armenian schools benefit from an education that is immersed in the Armenian community while simultaneously learning the skills they need to be successful in the diaspora. Anahid Donoyan from Providence, RI, grew up in a traditional Armenian home, speaking Armenian and reading Armenian stories at a young age, laying a strong foundation for a formal Armenian education. “Armenian school expanded my speaking [skills] and taught me to read and write while also teaching me about the rich culture and history of our country,” explained Donoyan.
The CLC has taken the initiative to highlight one Eastern Region Armenian school every week on the AYF East social media. Last week, the CLC featured St. Stephen’s Armenian Nursery and Elementary School (SSAES) in Watertown, MA. Established in 1984, St. Stephen’s opened its doors with only eight students. Today, the school has a total of 160 students enrolled. “Being exposed to our language, history and traditions everyday made me come to appreciate how important it is to not only cherish our culture but also to preserve it,” said SSAES alumnus Emin Abrahamian. He ended with a beautiful message proclaiming, “There’s no better way to preserve it than sending our youth to Armenian schools.”
AYF East will next be highlighting Hovnanian Armenian School in New Jersey. “Going to an Armenian everyday school has in almost every way made me who I am today,” reflected Shant Keshishian. “The small grade sizes meant that I became very close with all my peers, and it ultimately became my gateway to the AYF. On top of keeping me connected with the Armenian community around me, I also learned to speak, read and write in Armenian. Armenian school also gave me the opportunity to visit Armenia with my entire class where I was able to see first hand everything I was taught in the classroom.” Keshishian was able to apply his learnings to his daily life, keeping him from assimilating by creating strong ties to the Armenian community, the Armenian culture and the Armenian language.
Plant the seed of Armenianness at home. Water this seed with the caring hands of an Armenian school teacher. Arm this coming generation of young Armenians with the ultimate weapon as descendants of the Armenian Genocide—our holy Armenian language, all by choosing Armenian schools.