By Barlow Der Mugrdechian
A group of ten teachers and administrators from Gyumri, Armenia were in Fresno for a two and a half week training and observation program, which was funded by the United States Information Agency and managed by California State University, Fresno. Dr. Bill Mallios of the Information Systems and Decision Sciences Department was the director of the Project and Dr. Dan Griffin of the Grants and Research Office at CSU Fresno assisted in the curriculum and site visit planning. Sites visited were schools in the Fresno Unified and Clovis School Districts, including visits to Clovis West High School, Buchanan High School, Roosevelt High School, and several middle and elementary schools.
Arriving on Thursday, October 16, 1997, the group of ten principals and vice-principals, from Armeniaís second largest city Gyumri, were in Fresno until Wednesday, November 5. The five women and five men in the group were hosted by local families during their stay in Fresno. Participants were Svetlana Galoyan, Vice-principal and teacher of the Marmashen School in the Shirak Marz; Knarik Khachatrian, Deputy Director of Educational Section in Gyumri School No.1; Knarik Aharonyan, Principal, State School No. 4, (handicapped and orphan population); Anahit Haroutunian, Head of the Humanities section/teacher of the “Photon” School in Gyumri; Lilia Hovsepian, vice-principal education section, ìTempî State school, Gyumri; Gurgen Tarakhchian, Deputy Director of education and curriculum of the Gyumri Ghevond Alishan State School #8; Spartak Torosian, principal/teacher, Middle School of Vahramashen; Samvel Hovannisian, vice-principal, Byron School No. 20 (Private school) in Gyumri; Zohrab Chaghayan, director, Basic School of the Gyumri Pedagogical Institute; and Samvel Grigorian, principal, Secondary School in Gyumri.
The guests were greeted on Friday afternoon, October 17, by Barlow Der Mugrdechian of the Armenian Studies Program, and by interpreters Ashot Hagopian and Lucy Erysian, who gave the group an orientation for the program and a campus tour.
On Monday afternoon, a special tour of Fresno was arranged. Stops included a visit to Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church and a tour of the Valley Lahvosh Baking Company facilities, led by Agnes Saghatelian. A trip to the Ararat Armenian Cemetery included a visit to the monument dedicated to Soghomon Tehlerian and a visit to many sites made famous by William Saroyan.
CSUF President Dr. John Welty welcomed the group in his campus office and discussed the scope of the visit and the activities of the group. Later the group members received a signed copy of a photograph with the President.
The Armenian Community School of Fresno and Principal Seth Atamian hosted the group on Tuesday, October 21 for a tour of the facilities, followed by lunch. Group members had the opportunity to observe the students and staff of the school. Later a trip to the William Saroyan permanent exhibit at the Fresno Metropolitan Museum was of immense interest to the group, who spent several hours in exploring the museum.
Each day group members observed and participated in activities designed to make them aware of how the primary and secondary school system in the United States functions. Site visits to local high-schools were planned and there were opportunities to interact with students, teachers, and administrators.
Classes on the usage of computer technology for instruction were taught by Otto Benavides, Director of Instructional Technology for the School of Education. Hands on experience introduced the participants to how the computer can be utilized in the classroom.
A trip to San Francisco was the highlight of the first week. Mrs. Jacqueline Kazarian, founder of the William Saroyan San Francisco Cultural Resource Center, hosted the group for an informal tour of her home and a discussion on William Saroyan. Interpreter Ashot Hagopian escorted the group to San Francisco.
On Monday of the following week, principal Jim Green welcomed the group to North Fork Elementary School nestled in the foothills of Fresno County and took them on a tour of the rural school. The visitors were impressed by the use of technology in the classrooms and the modern equipment that students had the opportunity to use, including laptop computers.
That afternoon, a visit to Victor Packing Inc. in Madera introduced the group to the rich agricultural heritage of the San Joaquin Valley. Sarkis Sahatdjian and son Victor Sahatdjian greeted the group and gave them a tour of the raisin packing facilities. Sarkis Sahatdjian explained the history of Armenians in agriculture in the area. Raisins were given to all of the visitors.
On Tuesday, October 28, after visiting local schools, the group was hosted to a lunch at the monthly luncheon meeting of the Armenian General Benevolent Union of Fresno. Many community members had a chance to ask questions to the group about current conditions in Armenia. Later that same evening teacher Zaroohi Der Mugrdechian hosted the visitors at a dinner held at her home. Local area Armenian educators joined the visitors from Armenia and a lively exchange of ideas took place.
On Wednesday October 29, the group visited the CSU Fresno Child Development Center and had an opportunity to visit and observe how children are taught in the program. That evening, the Fresno Armenian community had a chance to visit with the group at a gathering held at the Armenian Community School of Fresno. Highlights from the evening included viewing a video from Gyumri and a display of children’s art.
The next day, the group visited the Fresno County Office of Education and made site visits to schools which included students who are physically or intellectually challenged. Charlene Samuelian and Armen Bacon from the Fresno County Office of Education accompanied the group on their site visits. This visit impressed the visitors with the care that the American school system has for students.
That evening, Mr. and Mrs. Vartkes and Nazik Messerlian and family hosted a dinner at their home in honor of the Armenian group. The Messerlians were recent visitors to Armenia and the guest enjoyed relating their experiences with the hosts.
The second weekend was highlighted by a visit to Los Angeles and to Disneyland. Escorted by interpreters Viktoriya Yerkanyan and Hagop Ekmekchyan, they visited the large Armenian community of Los Angeles.
Culminating the training course was a going away dinner held at the King of Kebobs restaurant in Fresno. Group participants received a diploma signifying their satisfactory completion of the training program. Barlow Der Mugrdechian of the Armenian Studies Program, who acted as coordinator for the interpreters and arranged the logistics for the program, also distributed mementos of the Fresno stay.
The Armenian principals and vice-principals returned to Gyumri early on Wednesday, November 5, 1997.