Armenian School: A Place for Language, Culture and Connections

Nayiri Shahnazarian pictured with her students at Armenian School of Greater Baltimore

Most people have heard the term “kids are sponges.” Whatever they hear and see, they remember, and that information becomes ingrained in their conscience. This past year, I’ve witnessed this common saying in full effect. I am a teacher at the Armenian School of Greater Baltimore (ASGB), where I have seen my nine students (ages three to six years old) thrive in this Saturday school program. 

In 2019, I spent six months in Armenia and Georgia through Camp Javakhk and a study abroad program at the American University of Armenia. After those two incredible experiences, I wanted to increase my participation in the community, so I joined the AYF. The AYF led me to meet more Armenians who were incredibly motivated to work toward helping Armenian communities all over the world. I grew even more passionate to give back to my community. So, I decided to return to my roots and teach at my old Armenian Saturday School. 

I reached out to my former teachers whose own children had taken my place as their students, and I shared with them that I wanted to be a part of our organization again. We began planning right away and spent a full year teaching online due to the pandemic. Even with these limitations and shortened classes, I saw my students grasp the concepts of the Armenian alphabet, colors, prayer and more through virtual games and presentations.

Over the weekend, our school hosted its year-end hantes. Students showed off what they had learned for their proud parents and grandparents in the audience. My students performed confidently on stage; they sang Mer Hairenik, recited a poem in unison and sang Armenian songs. During the year, I watched my students blossom from shy children who did not understand why they were at school on a Saturday to them asking me to play Mer Hairenik during craft time and showing me their hands and wrists twisting in the air during Armenian dance. They learned how to introduce themselves in Armenian and practiced with their classmates. They learned Christmas songs, the Hayr Mer and votanavors. Some mornings I would be so tired and exhausted, but a burst of energy would come over me the moment I saw my students walk through the doors of my classroom. I was and am still so proud to be their teacher.

Sending your children to Armenian school is more than just about learning the language. Armenian school is also about the connections and memories that they have with other students and teachers. After 20 years, I still remember my first Armenian school teacher and everything I learned from her. I will never forget her class, and that is exactly what I want for my students. I want them to grow up and remember Armenian school and the friends they made and the fun they had together. I want them to remember these memories in a space meant only for them, our language and our culture.

It’s not easy being a teacher, but it is so rewarding. If there is an Armenian school near you, send your children. If there isn’t an Armenian school, create one! My appreciation and respect for my Armenian community is rooted in my early childhood education at my Armenian school.

Nayiri Shahnazarian

Nayiri Shahnazarian

Nayiri Shahnazarian is from Baltimore, Maryland. She graduated with a double major in economics and business management from Goucher College in 2020. Nayiri volunteered at Camp Javakhk in 2019 and remained in Armenia to complete her fall semester of her senior year at the American University of Armenia. She is a member of the AYF Washington, DC "Ani" Chapter. She also teaches at the local Baltimore Armenian Saturday school.
Nayiri Shahnazarian

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