Glendale Unified School District Board Talks Diversity, Approves Armenian Heritage Month

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By Eliza Partika

GLENDALE, Calif. (Glendale News-Press) — The Glendale Unified School District Board of Education recently voted to make April the official month of Armenian Heritage, while highlighting the district’s progress on diversity, equity and inclusion and announcing plans for a full-day kindergarten program.

During the April 4 meeting, board members also listened to a public speaker who advocated for more inclusivity and potentially more academic opportunities for Armenian students by creating a dedicated checkbox on the US Census for Armenian individuals.

The US Office of Management and Budget released a draft 2030 census that includes new and revised categories for the US Census, including the option for an Armenian check box in the Middle Eastern and North African category.

Sophia Armen, a member of the Census Task Force and the Armenian-American Action Network, spoke on the importance of collecting data on Armenians in the Census to increase opportunity.

“We really want to emphasize that our Armenian community currently lacks meaningful federal data as a group, while being one of the largest and impacted groups of this category,” said Arman.

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“The historic exclusion of an Armenian check box on the Census has severe ramifications for our quality of life, including denied opportunities for equal access, voting rights protections, health care, business and education,” Arman said.

The district serves the highest concentration of Armenian American students in the United States, but lacks meaningful data, meaning the school cannot track student progress and identify any specific opportunity gaps that exist for Armenian students.

“Absentee rates, suspension rates, graduation rates and other important information pertaining to these students does not exist quite simply because we are not visible in the data,” said Arman. More accurate district-related and school-specific data could be collected with an Armenian category on the census, said Arman.

Board member Ingrid Gunnell asked Arman when the deadline is to decide on adding the checkbox. While there is not a set date, Arman replied, working groups are expected to hold public comments about the checkbox, and that several rounds of exploratory discussions should be held after.

“One of the important things that we are asking for is [the] need to be at that table,” Arman said.

Superintendent Addresses DEI Progress

In her report to board of education members, Superintendent Vivian Ekchian summarized the recent meeting of the Student Voice Collaborative panel that took place at Hoover High School. She reiterated the work still to be done by faculty, staff and board members addressing diversity, equity and inclusion when it comes to student success.

High school students on the panel highlighted the importance of strengthening student relationships with teachers and staff, which are integral to their learning and success. The panel also requested there be programs put into place to educate younger students about the effects of hurtful language and behavior.

Ekchian praised students for their examples of what school could look like for them, including more flexible assignment dates and their eagerness to learn more about self-care after the installation of wellness centers.

“They want to learn more about wellness, but they also want to have places they can go,” said Ekchian.

Ekchian addressed the problems with hate speech that the district has been struggling with, and reiterated the goals to promote belonging, to create safe, welcoming environments for students, to bring resources to historically marginalized students and to improve mental and physical health for all.

“We have to be able to meet the needs of every student in our district, regardless of the size of the subpopulation that identifies itself as a particular group,” said Ekchian.
At GUSD schools, 59% of students are white, including Armenian students; 49.2% of students are considered socioeconomically disadvantaged, Ekchian said. “It’s important for us to target support in every decision we make,” she said.

In the SVC panel, students emphasized that not all of them come from “academically affluent” backgrounds, and sought understanding from teachers, staff and board members about the flexibility students need to balance self-care, jobs, school work and activities, and home life. Some suggested advisory periods were helpful in sharing important information and reiterated a need for students to be taught life skills such as financial literacy, college savings and building credit in school.

The district is making efforts to expand interest groups on campus to support smaller student populations. Ekchian is planning a zoom survey and meeting for students who would like to create specific support groups.

Full-day Kindergarten

Ekchian announced the district’s intention to expand the half-day kindergarten program into a full-day program for all 5-year-olds by the 2024-25 school year. There are currently 1,663 students enrolled in the district’s kindergarten program, according to GUSD Communications Director Kristine Nam.

Nearly 80% of California public school districts offer full-day kindergarten, Ekchian said, allowing children additional time to develop skills in peer interaction and emotional development. A full day of learning also leads to opportunities for early literacy and numeracy and better preparation for 1st-grade and beyond.

“There’s more time for early intervention, developmental play, fine and gross motor skills and hands-on arts and science,” said Ekchian. “We really look forward to more comprehensive art and science programs and increased funding coming in for that,” she said.

Full-day kindergarten can also provide support for working families. Nam emphasized the demand for a full-day kindergarten offering and said parents in the community are “overwhelmingly excited.”

“We have many, many families who have multiple kids in our school systems right now, and if they are at different grade levels, the gap between the end of kindergarten day and the end of the day for other grade levels does make a difference for our families,” said Ekchian.

In March and April, conversations with district human resources, labor partners and leadership have helped envision what full-day kindergarten could look like for students, families and staff. In May and June, facilities assessments and budgets will be developed, and in August, the board will recruit a committee of teachers, staff, principals and members of labor unions to discuss implementation of full-day kindergarten. Parents will be notified and public comment sessions will be held in September, ahead of the August 2024 launch of the full-day kindergarten program.

(First published in the April 15 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.)

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