Michigan’s AGBU Manoogian Graduates Record-Breaking Senior Class


SOUTHFIELD, MI — Since its founding by benefactors Alex and Marie Manoogian in 1969, the AGBU Alex and Marie Manoogian School has been one of the premier Armenian educational establishments in the United States. The only Armenian day school outside of California which goes up to 12th grade, the school has been a pillar of the Armenian culture and heritage in the Detroit area.

In 1995, the school succeeded in transitioning from a private school to a publicly-funded charter school authorized by Central Michigan University, opening its horizons to the broader community with its doors open to all, while keeping its close ties with the Armenian community and Armenian history and language (Western) as a requirement of the curriculum. Its strong ESL (English as a Second Language) program, developed originally for the children of Armenian immigrants, has attracted the children of other immigrant groups to the school.

With the difficulties of the Covid pandemic, many schools have struggled to keep their students engaged. Manoogian not only succeeding in weathering the pandemic, but the Class of 2021 ended up being one of the most successful groups of graduates to date.

Graduating Class

The senior class of 2021 has 33 students. Nearly half have a 4-year cumulative GPAs of over 3.5, a new record for the school. Nearly half are part of the National Honor Society. Eight students have been accepted to the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor with full four-year scholarships. In total the class has received acceptances from 85 universities, and been awarded a total of $4.446 million in four-year tuition scholarships, both of which are new records for the school as well.

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One student, Yuliya Velhan, was accepted at Brown University with a full ride, including lodging and books. Velhan’s success story has made the school especially proud, as she has not only been accepted into an Ivy League college, but also came to the US from the Ukraine in 6th grade without speaking a word of English.

A group of four students were chosen as co-valedictorians, including Velhan and fellow students Karine Calukyan, Elaine Azar, and David Togmajyan. All four have full-ride scholarships, with Velhan planning to attend Brown and the other three, the University of Michigan.

Velhan was initially intimidated by having to learn Armenian as well as English for the first time. However, with the help of Manoogian’s ESL (English as a Second Language) program, she was thriving by high school with membership in several extracurriculars, including being president of the robotics team, SNHS (Science National Honor Society), NHS (National Honor Society) and captain of the Cross Country team.

Velhan said “Seven years later, I feel like I’ve never been at a different school.”

Among other positive aspects of Manoogian, she mentioned that the way faculty and students interact and with the small size of the school, “it brings us closer together.” The school was a “very welcoming environment,” Velhan stated, and “it’s not like a [regular] public high school where there are thousands of students and you get lost in the crowd, nobody knows you. Here everybody knows you and everybody’s willing to help you.”

Some of the awards students there have won

At Brown she will double major in public health and computational biology. She has also been accepted in Brown’s “Presidential Scholars” program which will provide her with two summers of paid research internships. She plans to utilize this program to pursue a career in public health. Velhan says that public health has always been an interest of hers, but that it was really pushed forward by the pandemic of the past year and a half.

Calukyan has attended Manoogian since Pre-K. She grew up in the Armenian community and has been a past president of the Armenian Youth Federation – Detroit Junior Chapter, member of the local Hamazkayin “Arax” Dance Troupe, and played basketball for St. John’s Armenian Church in the Orthodox League. At Manoogian, she was the captain of the girls’ basketball team and pursued dual enrollment opportunities which the school offers with Lawrence Tech University and Oakland Community College, as well as “Project Lead the Way.” The latter is a special set of STEM courses provided by the school, taught by highly qualified teachers in the areas of human body systems, computer science, and engineering principles. Project Lead the Way is claimed to be the nation’s leading provider of K-12 STEM curriculum.

Calukyan stated “the school opened my mind to science” and she plans to attend U-M Ann Arbor in the pre-Med program, hoping to eventually specialize in neuroscience. In regard to how the school shaped her, she states, “from the cultural aspect, I’ve learned the culture, language, dance, history. If I didn’t attend Manoogian I don’t think I would be able to say that. I attend camps on the East Coast and many of my Armenian friends from the East Coast and elsewhere, they might speak the language but they stopped going to Armenian School in 5th grade. I think having to take Armenian all the way through high school, I was able to remember the language more. And I can now carry this to the future and teach it to my kids.”

As for the school’s atmosphere, “the teachers have seen me grow up, and being in the same class with other kids, we’ve all grown together as a family,” Calukyan says. “And we’ve known each other for so long, people consider it like a family. I love Manoogian and I never would decide to go somewhere else.”

Azar has been at the school since kindergarten. She has participated in SNHS, NHS, volleyball, dual enrollment and other activities and opportunities. Azar is planning to attend U-M college of engineering. Her goal is to study biomedical engineering with a focus in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. In layman’s terms, she shares that this means working with stem cells and doing oncology research to help cancer patients with damaged tissue regain the use of the affect areas of their body.

Azar stated, “Since I came, the school has been a welcoming environment, like a home away from home. All the teachers have a flexible teaching style and know what to do for your benefit.”

She further shared that due to the small size of the school, teachers are able to work one-on-one with students and help them understand the lessons better. She also said that the school provides a community environment that is always supporting students.

Tokmajian was born in New York and came to Michigan in the 7th grade. He has participated in cross country, SNHS, NHS, and other activities. He plans to attend University of Michigan Business School and pursue a career in finance. His dream is to return to his hometown of New York City for a career on Wall Street.

Born to parents from Armenia and raised in the Russian/Armenian section of Brooklyn, Tokmajyan states, “Growing up I knew Armenians, my family had a lot of Armenian friends, but I didn’t necessarily know the culture. But at Manoogian I got a new connection to my Armenian roots, because here they actually taught you the history. I learned to read and write mostly after coming here, and that really connected me.” He further stated that “Another thing is you have the same teachers over and over again. You get to know them so well. It’s a deeper connection that something you’d get at a regular high school. They almost become our friends to a point. I think it allows us to better learn, too.” When asked to elaborate, Tokmajyan explained that because of the close relationship, students have a deeper sense of respect for the teachers. Students do their work and participate in part because they don’t want to let down the teachers that have taken them under their wing for so many years. They can interact easier with teachers and get more help with studies while at the same time maintaining a professional student-teacher relationship.

A School That Nurtures Talent

As a further testament to school’s success, Velhan shared the following story. “When I came I was younger, I didn’t know what I wanted to go into. I wasn’t really a science person. But ever since I came into the High School taking all these classes and participating in extracurricular activities, it brought out the student and the person in me and allowed me to grow. Whenever students want to do something, they have the chance to be the initiators. Last spring when school shut down and everything was online, another student and I came up with an idea to start a Science NHS. The school has been focusing on STEM for a long time but more with technology and robotics, so we wanted to add something aside from Project Lead the Way and AP Biology, we wanted to add an extracurricular for those who are interested in science. So we founded [the Science National Honor Society] by creating a 10-slide presentation and presenting it to [High School Principal] Dr. Torosian and [High School Head Teacher] Mrs. Kadri. They let us go through with the idea and now we are doing our first science fair. The school allows you to do anything you want in terms of academic growth. If the school can’t give it to you in school they’ll do it outside of school.” [The latter in reference to the dual enrollment programs with Lawrence Tech and Oakland Community College].

Having survived the Covid pandemic under the able leadership of High School Principal Dr. Hosep Torossian and Lower School Principal Sonia Kalfayan, the Manoogian School has given an astounding graduating class to the world this year, and continues on the path of academic excellence in the American context as well as pursuing the preservation of the Armenian culture and heritage.

To find out more about the school visit https://manoogian.org/.

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