Armenian School Teachers, Participants Discuss Ties Between Language and Faith at Annual Symposium


NEW YORK — At the annual Symposium for Armenian Teachers at the Diocesan Center last month, educators heard presentations from a scholar of Armenian Studies and a veteran teacher on the ties between the Armenian language and faith, and focused on ways they could help students identify these connections in the classroom.

More than 70 participants representing 10 Diocesan Armenian schools in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts attended the event on Saturday, September 12. The day’s program was organized by the Diocese’s Armenian Studies Coordinator Gilda Kupelian.

Dr. Roberta Ervine, professor of Armenian Studies at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, spoke to educators about the origin of the Armenian alphabet and its close relationship with Christianity.

In addition to making it possible to translate the Bible into Armenian, the alphabet helped embed Christian terms in the Armenian language by associating certain letters with words like “God” and “Christ.”

For example, Ervine noted that the first letter of the alphabet — Ayb — is linked to the word “Asdvadz,” or “God.” Meanwhile Keh — originally the last letter of the Armenian alphabet — represents the cross and is associated with “Kristos,” or “Christ.”

Hovsep Melkonian, who has served as the principal of Hamasdegh Armenian Language School in Bethesda, Md., spoke about a teaching model he developed which scheduled Armenian and Sunday School classes on the same day.

Quoting Mkhitar of Sepastia’s saying, “I do not sacrifice my nation for my faith, nor my faith for my nation,” Melkonian explained how the model helped students make connections between Armenian language, religion and culture.

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Melkonian also spoke about challenges Armenian Schools face in the diaspora and asked teachers to think about the mission of Armenian language programs. He stressed the importance of evaluating teachers’ work, recognizing dedicated educators and organizing public performances and other activities to exhibit student work and motivate students.
Gilda Kupelian, the Diocese’s Armenian Studies coordinator, introduced the Armenian Alphabet Writing and Coloring Book and accompanying flashcards, which were recently released by the Department of Youth and Education. The resources help young students reinforce the Armenian alphabet, basic vocabulary and writing skills.

In addition, she highlighted the Arevig software, produced by the Gulbenkian Foundation in Portugal, and its companion English guidebook and lesson plans, developed by Kupelian.

Also during the symposium, teachers reviewed recommendations issued at the Clergy Conference last spring, which encourage the establishment of programs for students of non-Armenian speaking families, summer classes and the increased use of technological resources in the classroom.

Reviewing the “Armenian Schools Survey,” which was completed by all Diocesan Armenian Schools in the 2008-09 academic year, educators noted the suggestions to hold regional workshops for teachers, foster parental involvement in Armenian language instruction, improve students’ knowledge of Armenian culture and introduce updated textbooks.

“We have already taken steps to propagate cultural literacy and are working incessantly to do the same for language learning in our existing programs, as well as for our new initiatives,” said Kupelian. “Our guest lecturers inspired us with their erudition and it is always gratifying to witness the continued commitment of the Armenian language teachers and principals.”

The day also featured an award ceremony. Lucy Martayan of Holy Martyrs Saturday School in Bayside, was honored for 52 years of service and Nectar Munro of St. Gregory the Enlightener Armenian School in White Plains, and Araxi Shamamian of St. Vartan Cathedral Armenian School in New York, were honored for 25 years of service.

For 10 years of service, the following individuals were presented with a bust of writer and poet Khachatur Abovyan: Dr. Levon Capan of Kirikian Armenian School in Tenafly, NJ; Mayreni Jermen Hallajian of the Shnorhali School in Washington, DC; Maro Partamian and Vartan Garniki of the Khrimian Lyceum in New York; Kayaneh Haroutounian of Soorp Kevork Armenian School in Houston, Texas; and Svetlana Amirkhanian, Marina Bagdasarova, Angela Kazariannd Yuriy Tsaturyan of St.Gregory the Illuminator Armenian School of Brooklyn. The busts were crafted in Armenia on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Abovyan’s birth.

In addition, all participants received signed Bibles from Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern).
“The workshop was helpful. I really enjoyed it,” said Anna Asatrian, a teacher at St. Gregory the Enlightener Armenian School in White Plains.

“We were very impressed by the lectures,” added Marie Yacoubian of Holy Martyrs Saturday School in Bayside. “They were constructive and innovative.”

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