An Educational Mission: TCA Dickranian School on its 30th Anniversary

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

Last week, the Tekeyan Cultural Association’s Arshag Dickranian School celebrated its 30 years of existence in Hollywood, Calif. — 30 years of sweat and tears and 30 years of educating successive generations.

The Dickranian School is the leading educational institution in Tekeyan’s network of schools, which includes one institution in Beirut, Lebanon, and five in Armenia and Karabagh.

 The Tekeyan Cultural Association is not an organization relying on sizeable endowment funds to run its schools; instead, each school is endowed with an army of volunteers to raise funds year round to keep the school doors open. In the case of the Dickranian School, benefactor Arshag Dickranian and members of his family have generously supported the construction and the development of the school, with the family continuing his mission after his death, by making annual, sizeable contributions. However, a school of that size, with a high school, requires huge infusions of cash to survive and to keep pace with the development of other schools. Since the inception of the school, George Mandossian has been a mover and shaker of the project, heading a group of dedicated members on the School Board.

There are 270 students enrolled at the school, who along with a quality mainstream education, learn the Armenian language and history. As if the challenges of running an Armenian school were not enough, the school has an added problem of trying to academically reconcile the speakers of Eastern and Western Armenian into the student body, as the majority of the parents are from Armenia.

With all the financial, educational, administrative and psychological problems, it is almost a miracle that the Dickranian School has survived and even thrived.

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Local public schools have a large enrollment of Armenian students, necessitating the instruction of the Armenian language. And yet, many parents still prefer Armenian schools, despite high tuition rates.

Of course, part of that decision is derived from a commitment of the parents to cherishing our heritage and part of it comes from more practical needs. Private schools, overall, provide a safer environment than public schools, in general.

The 1970s and 1980s witnessed an expansion of Armenian schools through the US and Canada, spearheaded by the AGBU and the Western Prelacy. The Eastern and Western Dioceses of the Armenian Church have shirked the traditional role of sponsoring Armenian schools. The Hovsepian School in Pasadena is the only school sponsored by the Western Diocese, almost thrust upon it by benefactors Alfred and Margaret Hovsepian, while the Diocese is engaged in building a cathedral at a cost of $16-17 million.

It looks like the communities in North America have reached a saturation point in the day school drive. Over several years, only one high school was opened in Pasadena by the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), the Vatche and Tamar Manoukian School, as it is called now after a recent large donation by that family.

Running a school is not everyone’s cup of tea. Education is a science today and it is not within the competence of amateur forces to administer a successful school.

Unlike many other Armenian institutions, the school is a daily operation, needing visionary leaders. In addition, it needs to be led by someone who appreciates the real value of Armenian education and demonstrates commensurate faith and dedication to it.

Granted, many Armenian schools have not attained the level of success that would quiet all of the nay- sayers. But the nay-sayers are the first responsible party to cause the school movement in America to lose some steam. Instead of just harping on the negative they should give constructive advice and admire many of the positive goals they achieve.

Every institution has its place and role in building and defining our Armenian identity. However no institution can replace the school in preserving our heritage. To believe that any other institution can play the role of the Armenian day school is tantamount to putting a band aid on our Armenian identity.

Yes, education — and Armenian education in particular — is an expensive yet necessary commodity and it needs immense funding to be successful. Any half-hearted support is bound to doom Armenian education to failure.

As our identity is diluted, it gets easier to finding copouts and looking for substitutes for the Armenian school.

With all these problems and challenges, the Dickranian School has accomplished its mission with flying colors, thanks to the extraordinary dedication and foresight of its leadership.

Whereas its mission continues, the insurmountable challenges pile up. The school has an annual deficit of more than $200,000 and a huge mortgage to pay.

Thus far the school has been very fortunate to enjoy the support of the Dickranian family. Many other benefactors have also come forward with their generous contributions.

Any one concerned with the preservation of our heritage, language and history has no other place to go but to support the school.

The Dickranian School may be poor in its assets but it is rich in its output, with generations of young Armenian graduates becoming productive citizens.

The failure of Armenian education down the road is the failure of our identity no matter how magnificent our cathedrals may be and no matter how many fancy projects we may pursue.

There is no alternative to the Armenian school.

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