Nation-Builders: A life-changing program not only in the school, but also in the community - Mediamax.am

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Nation-Builders: A life-changing program not only in the school, but also in the community


Photo: TFA

Photo: TFA

Photo: TFA

Photo: Mediamax

Photo: Mediamax

Victoria Aghabekyan
Victoria Aghabekyan

Photo: Mediamax

Victoria Aghabekyan
Victoria Aghabekyan

Photo: Mediamax

Victoria Aghabekyan
Victoria Aghabekyan

Photo: Mediamax


For over a year, the school in the village of Chinari, Tavush province, hosting 76 students, has adopted new approaches and initiatives in the educational processes. As a donor to Teach For Armenia's Nation-Builders program, the Izmirlian Foundation has supported this border village school by making it possible for the school to not only have a primary school Teacher-Leader but also a set of school equipment and a grant for implementing students' innovative projects.

 

Teach For Armenia's Development Manager, Victoria Aghabekyan, notes that their collaboration with the Izmirlian Foundation has a long-standing history. Since 2022, this partnership has been further strengthened, with the foundation becoming a sponsor of the Nation-Builders program.

 

Teach For Armenia’s Nation-Builders program is an opportunity for committed individuals from around the world to invest in the development of Armenia through education. Through the program, donors sponsor Teach For Armenia’s school community and receive a unique engagement experience.

Victoria Aghabekyan Victoria Aghabekyan

Photo: Mediamax

In Armenia, there is a deepening crisis in the field of education, particularly in public education, characterized by a decline in academic knowledge and an increasing number of vacant teaching positions. According to data from the RA Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sports, there are 600-700 vacancies annually, with rural communities experiencing particularly high teacher vacancy rates. Teach For Armenia was founded in 2013 in response to these challenges, with the goal of creating equal educational opportunities for all children, regardless of their socio-economic status or geographical location.

 

"Our main focus was the Teacher Leadership program, which laid the foundation for the Nation-Builders program in 2021. It is a two-year school sponsorship initiative, allowing organizations and individuals from around the world to invest in Armenia's education sector, thereby contributing to the country's development and advancement," Victoria Aghabekyan explains.

Photo: Mediamax

The beneficiaries of the Nation-Builders program are all the schools in ten provinces of Armenia that are partners of Teach For Armenia.

 

"Through the program, we enable individuals or organizations interested in investing in education to finance one school. The sponsor donates the equivalent of $ 10,000 for the two-year program, which is used to recruit, find and train Teacher-Leaders to be placed in communities where they will live and work," Teach For Armenia's Development Manager explains.

Victoria Aghabekyan Victoria Aghabekyan

Photo: Mediamax

According to her, the donors and sponsors of the program develop strong ties with the communities. Over the two years of cooperation, community visits are organized for them. These visits give sponsors, especially those from the diaspora who may not be familiar with Armenia's communities, the opportunity to discover the potential here in their own way.

 

Regarding the indirect impact of Nation-Builders, Victoria Aghabekyan emphasizes that it not only reforms the given class and school but also the entire community. "For us, it is important not only to fill vacant teacher positions and provide quality education, but also to bring about changes in the community through our teaching approach. Our teachers work with students who explore their community, its strengths and weaknesses, identify issues facing the community, and attempt to draw up projects and submit them to Teach For Armenia for funding and implementation. Every year, 30 of the strongest projects are selected for implementation in the communities."

 

"One of the best examples of supporting schools under this program is the sponsorship of Chinari secondary school by the Izmirlian Foundation. The foundation, one of our loyal partners, provided funding that allowed us to finance, train, and send our Teacher-Leader to teach elementary school students," says Victoria.

Victoria Aghabekyan Victoria Aghabekyan

Photo: Mediamax

Chinari school has already welcomed its third Teacher-Leader under this program. School Director Eliza Bilyan says, "The Teach For Armenia program has been a tremendous help for us. Not only has it addressed the issue of teacher shortages, but it has also brought new life and energy to the students, the school, and the community. The way the children interact has changed; they have become more outspoken and confident."

 

The director recounts that the first teacher sent to the school by the program grew to love the community so much and was so beloved by the community that she decided not to leave the village. She got married and settled there permanently.

 

Eliza Amirkhanyan, our second Teacher-Leader who replaced her, not only taught classes but also established Mental Arithmetic and Puppet Theater extracurricular clubs in the school. Both clubs were very popular among the students. The Mental Arithmetic students participated in a competition and won first place, while the Puppet Theater students not only made decorations for the school stage but also toured the schools of nearby communities with their puppet shows.

Photo: TFA

Nelly Hovhannisyan is another Teacher-Leader who was sent to Chinari school six months ago. Nelly is from Gyumri, and she had never been to Chinari before. She says she had only seen the village on TV.

 

"I learned about Teach For Armenia back in my student years, in 2019-2020, but even before that, I had already decided that after graduating from university, I would definitely work in a school in a rural community. Before entering university, I did various volunteer work. One time, we staged a puppet show at a school in one of the border villages of Shirak. It was then that I learned not only about the problem of the lack of teachers in the school, but also that the children were seeing a puppet show for the first time. This experience left a mark on me, inspiring me to choose the profession of a teacher and teach in a community. Perhaps, it was a sense of civic responsibility," says Nelly.

Photo: TFA

After graduating from university, Nelly had to decide whether to continue studying for a master's degree or apply to Teach For Armenia. Now, she is in Chinari. "Before being placed in a community, we went through several stages of online courses and training. Only at the end did we learn who would be placed in which community. When I found out, I called my mother and said, 'Chinari village, Tavush province.' I will never forget her reaction: 'Nelly, is there anything else you’re going to pull on us? Do you even know where that village is?' In reality, not only you but also your family should be ready for the decision that you are going to live and work in a completely different environment for two years."

Photo: Mediamax

The teacher says that she had adapted to community life and living conditions easily.

 

"This is my decision. This program brings change to the lives of the school, students, and the community, as well as our own, helping us grow both personally and professionally. Teach For Armenia uses a very apt term: Teacher-Leader, which implies that, alongside improving children’s academic knowledge, we also foster their leadership abilities, help them recognize their emotions and feelings, discover themselves and their potential, and address community issues. For example, while studying the topic of health during “The Environment and Me” class with the fourth-grade students, we discussed the problem of excessive consumption of cigarettes, energy drinks, and alcohol in the community, which harms people's health. We have now initiated a community project with the students, made a short film, drawn up a budget, and submitted it for financing," says the teacher. She notes that such programs are a great opportunity for children living in communities.

 

With the support of the Izmirlian Foundation, Teacher-Leaders were also sent to schools in the Vanand community in Armavir province, the Lorut community in Lori province, the Arajadzor community in Artsakh, and the Norashen and Choratan communities in Tavush province.

 

Arpi Jilavyan

 

Photos by Agape Grigoryan

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