A renovated classroom in the Tekeyan School

Beirut Tekeyan School Continues Operations Despite Obstacles

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BEIRUT — Despite the damages from a great explosion in August, the Vahan Tekeyan School of Beirut is operational and repairs continue to be carried out. However, Covid-19 and the poor economy in Lebanon continue to cause great difficulties, while the political situation remains uncertain and a new government has yet to be formed.

1. Courtyard area of Tekeyan School, renovated with new windows

The Tekeyan Center in the Gemmayze district, up until the last few years, has been the most important financial source of support for the Tekeyan School in Beirut. Various businesses rent offices at the Center, which also hosts Armenian cultural activities and Armenian organizations. The economic crisis in Lebanon and political instability affected its operations greatly. Upon this came the Covid-19 crisis, and then the explosion which destroyed much of the building. Finally, most recently a further fall in the value of the Lebanese currency adversely affected its rental income.

Exterior of part of Tekeyan School, with new windows

Chairman of the TCA Founders Body Hagop Kasarjian said that while fundraising for repair of the Tekeyan School was fairly successful, it was much harder for the Tekeyan Center. He said, “People don’t understand that the revenue from the center is what will support the school in the future.” Some money has been raised through non-Armenian Lebanese sources, but not sufficient to do all of the necessary repairs. The building has been secured from the elements but only some of the sections have been able to be restored. Hundreds of thousands of dollars will be necessary to fully repair the building.

1. Largely renovated kindergarten play area on ground floor

The Tekeyan School in Bourj Hammoud, a municipality which is part of Greater Beirut, has received $110,000 of aid through the Tekeyan Cultural Association of the United States and Canada. Many generous donors contributed along with the TCA itself. The Armenian General Benevolent Union has contributed $51,000, of which the majority was in-kind repairs. European and various non-profit Armenian and non-Armenian organizations have provided smaller sums. Most recently, Sam and Silva Simonian promised a major personal donation of $100,000, which helps ensure the operations of the school in 2021. Sam Simonian attended the school as a child and has been an important supporter of the school in the past.

A ground floor hallway of the Tekeyan School, still requiring new flooring

The school is providing free tuition this academic year (2020-21). There are 100 students enrolled at present, with 25 teachers and staff.

A renovated classroom in the Tekeyan School

According to Berge Arabian, who is in charge of the physical reconstruction, many repairs have been completed, including that of damaged walls on two floors and the roof. In the kindergarten, 14 windows have been repaired along with various internal ones, while 66 destroyed windows of the building have been replaced by new ones. Nearly all wooden doors have been either replaced or repaired along with curtains. Bathrooms are in the process of repair. Air conditioning, outside walls or fences, the vinyl flooring and stage for the third-floor hall, water fountains, an outside iron fence, equipment in the kindergarten play area and vinyl flooring for the kindergarten corridor are among the items remaining to be fixed or replaced, along with the computers, printers and other equipment destroyed in the explosion.

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The principal of the Tekeyan School, Galina Shememian Nadjarian, said that the fall session was conducted remotely, due to Covid-19 restrictions, until November 29. Six daily classes were livestreamed online while two sessions were provided to students in the form of PowerPoint lessons. Testing, homework submission and grading were all done online.

There were periodic remote access issues due to electricity issues in Beirut, but in general Nadjarian said the first to ninth grades were managing satisfactorily in this system. It was more difficult for the youngest students, aged three to five years old. It was not possible to keep them in front of computers, iPads or phones for six classes, so instead limited livestreaming was done [for language and mathematics], followed by assessment sessions. This allowed maintaining the connection between student and teacher, Nadjarian said. On remaining days, PowerPoint lessons were sent on all topics.

Unfortunately, very few of the children possess laptops or iPads at home, and so many join via telephone. Most of the parents had not used computers in their daily lives so it initially took some time in October and November to train them how to do things. The computer room in the Tekeyan School had been destroyed in the explosion and still is not repaired. There were still a few families without the means to participate in the internet lessons, but most parents have found ways to help their children do so.

While the classes were being conducted remotely, the principal and the administration all worked in the school building. The teachers worked from home. Nadjarian said that she had tried for a period to have all teachers in the school also, but the internet connection was not strong enough and the expense of changing to a different internet system would have been too great.

Principal Galina Shememian Nadjarian in her office (prior to the August 2020 explosion)

Starting on November 29, the students were allowed to have physical classes in a hybrid system. Six out of eight sessions daily were in-person, and two more sessions were via PowerPoint lessons provided to the students. However, due to a suspected case of coronavirus, as a precaution the school was again temporarily shut down starting on December 15. After the holidays, on January 11, when the students can hopefully physically return, examinations will be held.

Despite all the aforementioned difficulties, the school’s teachers and administrators are doing their utmost to make sure the children continue to receive their education in a safe fashion. Their dedication and industriousness are to be commended.

Those who wish to help the school financially can send their donations online by credit card at https://givebutter.com/bXn8Lm or by check to the Tekeyan Cultural Association (memo: Beirut Tekeyan School), at its headquarters (755 Mount Auburn Street, Watertown MA 02472). For more information, email tcadirector@aol.com or call 617 924-4455.

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