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Ms. Ghukasyan who teaches how to make mistakes


Zina Ghukasyan
Zina Ghukasyan

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Zina Ghukasyan
Zina Ghukasyan

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Zina Ghukasyan
Zina Ghukasyan

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Zina Ghukasyan
Zina Ghukasyan

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Zina Ghukasyan
Zina Ghukasyan

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Zina Ghukasyan
Zina Ghukasyan

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Zina Ghukasyan
Zina Ghukasyan

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


All children, regardless of where they were born, a well-developed city or a disadvantaged, socio-economically challenged village, have the right to attain an excellent education. Many of Armenia’s rural communities, however, face severe shortages of teachers for many years at a time. It is common to see one teacher teaching several subjects, where at times some subjects are left out of the curriculum entirely.

 Teach For Armenia is a two-year leadership development program for graduates and top professionals who speak Armenian and are willing to change not only their lives but also the lives of children living in Armenia. After training at Summer Institute, an intensive and rigorous five-week training program for Teach For Armenia Fellows, the Fellows are being placed for two years in communities where there is a need for teachers. Fellows not only contribute to the development of children's personal growth and academic knowledge, but also to the development of the communities through extracurricular and community development projects. Currently, the 42 participants of the program teach in 35 partner schools across five regions.

Who are these young people who are not afraid of change and difficulties who leave their comfort zones for the greater good, all to inspire children to discover their talents and realize their dreams, while inspiring the future generations.

Through the support of VivaCell-MTS, Mediamax and Teach For Armenia have launched a new project to shed light on the work and life of Fellows serving students in the most underserved communities of Armenia.

There are a few minutes left before the 5th-grade lesson is over. We are sitting in the teacher’s lounge and waiting for Zina to arrive. While we wait for Zina, the Social Science and History of Armenian Church teachers at the Lernahovit School (named after S. Karapetyan) makes a comment: “It’s worthwhile to write an article about Zina, she is an initiator, who works not only hard in school but also on her self development.”
 
The bell rings and Zina walks into the classroom just like the sun with red wavy hair and a big bright smile. Her height is barely different from her students. In one hand she held field flowers – a gift from her students - and in the other, a piece of chalk. With dusty hands, she turned to me and said “hello.”

Zina Ghukasyan Zina Ghukasyan

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


“Sometimes strangers come to school and say, my dear where is the 9th-grade classroom? I reply-come with me; I teach them”, - laughs Zina. After exchanging a few words, she rushed away. At the ring of the bell often you the see the young, energetic teacher running from one side of the school to the other. “At the beginning I had the school’s building map with me so that I can see where my classrooms are.  For each class I had a special notebook where I took notes, for example, “day one: today I met with this student, who made this.” I was taking notes to remember all the names of the children. It was hard to remember names of 140 students from 2nd to 12th grades, I even created nametags and placed them in front of the students to help me recall their names”.
 
Zina Ghukasyan is a 22-year-old teacher who moved to Lernahovit in 2015.  Zina is from Dilijan, she is a graduate of Yerevan State University and has a master’s degree in International Relations. She has worked in different sectors, but never felt a sense of belongingness. While she was a student at Yerevan State University, she realized the challenges in Armenia’s education system on a school and university level. Upon arriving at her new placement school in Lernahovit, she was faced with her first challenge when she asked her students what she believed to be a simple question: “what are your dreams?” Surprisingly, 80% of students didn't have any dreams to share. “I felt that they were apathetic, they didn’t want to do anything, they believed nothing would happen for them, that there is no need to dream’’. It was at that second that Zina understood that besides being a teacher, she had another important mission in this school – to bring back the opportunity to dream and create!
Zina Ghukasyan Zina Ghukasyan

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


''I always had a passion and interest to make a change in the education field, but I never knew how. My friends were aware of my goals and plans so one day a friend sent me the Teach For Armenia Fellowship application. I was excited! I figured the best way to enter the education field and have an impact while making significant changes is by teaching in a school, and not just any school, but a school in a rural community with limited resources and a need for a teacher”. 
 
Zina learned the location of her ‘’battlefield” at the end of August. She looked for Lernahovit village on the map, and no results were found. She traveled to the village with her parents before her move and the school principal offered Zina housing in his house since there were no vacant homes in the community. Zina decided that it would be best to live in the nearby city of Tashir. On her morning commute to Lernahovit, Zina goes over her lesson plans and on the way back home she checks her emails.
Zina Ghukasyan Zina Ghukasyan

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


Zina became the homeroom teacher for the 5th-grade class. On August 31st she arrived at the school for the first time to meet her students and handed out their books. Meeting the 5th grade students for the first time was challenging, however, making a connection with the older students was even more challenging.
 
''During the first three lessons our mood was not good because Ms. Ghukasyan showed up to the first day of school with her own set of rules” says one of Zina’s students, pointing at the rules on the wall. Arpine describes some of the rules- “during the lessons, we only were able to speak after raising our hands, and now we had to be on time although we were used to being late all the time.” This new behavior was not part of the classroom culture. The students tried to bend the rules but were unsuccessful, so they began to follow Ms. Ghuksyan’s rules.
Zina Ghukasyan Zina Ghukasyan

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


Zina attributes her first failure to inexperience.
 
''At the beginning, I created rules for my classrooms I was going around with a serious face, threatening 11 and 12-grade students with yellow and red cards. Of course, children didn’t accept that, and now I realized they didn’t need to. I look back now and surprise myself with the courage I had to tell 18-year-old boys “I’ll give you a yellow card.” Soon enough I realized everything needed to be adjusted and adapted according to age, and once I came to that realization, everything went smoothly”.

For the young teacher, the main priority was to give her students the tools she never received in school- the ability to think and the be creative! 

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


“I was trying to understand how I can force children to identify problems, and how to motivate them to solve those problems. I began discussing problems facing the community, it was then I learned that the children wanted to have a community park. The students were extremely motivated to build a park. As a classroom, we decided that we were going to build a park and started looking for funding. We spoke to the head of the village, and he provided as with space. We calculated and realized we needed 290,000AMD to build this park. Before the New Year, we got some ideas from the internet to make Christmas gifts and postcards and sell them. The Christmas sales got us 31,000AMD, to raise rest of the funds we started a crowdfunding campaign. Fortunately, a lot of people reacted, and we raised 410,000AMD, I was extremely excited to see Armenians across the world who once lived in Lernahovit contributed to our project”.

Our park is now ready, flowers are planted, the fence is built, benches and swings have been installed. After seeing the results of this community project, the students now are motivated to paint the abandoned lodge and turn it into a Lernahovit history museum.

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


“We could have asked Karen Karapetyan, who is a deputy of the National Assembly of Armenia (originally from Lernahovit) to support us, but we decided to start and implement the projects on our own so people can understand they themselves can make a change,” tells one of Zina’s students.
 
Zina says that the idea of the park made significant changes both in her and her student's lives.
Zina Ghukasyan Zina Ghukasyan

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


During these two years, there were thousands of cases when my children doubted that they would be able to do this project, they were concerned they would not be able to raise the money, they thought about people not attending the grand opening of the park, they even were worried that people would not watch their video. I am so happy to have shared this experience with them; they started to care about their community. Now my students have a sense of achievement, they were able to bring their vision to life, and they now take pride in their goals and accomplishments. My students now understand that when you want to do something, you can as long as you believe you can!

Zina remembers in the early stages of the park building process they wanted to apply for a project grant, they found a grant, but the deadline was on the same day, so they stayed at the school together with the children until 5 PM to brainstorm their application. Zina sent her students home and stayed back at the school for hours to apply for the grant.

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


'I was sitting in the classroom, writing some stuff then noticed that my children came back with food for me and said: "we thought you would be hungry and brought you some food."
 
Children know that they can talk to Ms. Ghukasyan about anything. The most important part is not to cross boundaries.

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


''The teacher has to remember that no matter how you try to be a friend, in the wider perspective, you are not their friend. I can talk to them, share my experience, give advice, but will never invite them for coffee in the evening. The boundaries are very sensitive, but they should be kept”.

During the lessons, in addition to extra-curricular activities, the children express their thoughts freely and talk about issues concerning them. Knowing they will not be criticized, the students know having a different opinion is not a “crime”.
 

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


“I did not experience this kind of ideology at my school, so I make sure my students have the ability and the opportunity to make mistakes. When I used to do something wrong in school it almost seemed like the end of the world. In school we were afraid to express our opinions because it could have been incorrect. I want my students to understand that making mistakes is the way to the truth. It’s impossible to get it right without being wrong at some point. I wanted my students to know that they can and should be wrong during my classes.  I remember in one of my 4th grade classes I gave an exercise to one of the students and when he made a mistake, he asked: “are you going give me a low grade?” Children sitting next to him responded: “ you know that Ms. Ghukasyan never assigns low grades for being wrong”. It was essential for me to see that they understood what I was trying to do because I have never told them directly “now you can make a mistake."



For Zina, it was important to understand what kind of interests her students have, and how to unlock and develop their full potential.

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


During one of the parent meetings in my homeroom class, I asked parents: “what kind of hobbies do your children have and what is it that they like to do?” Many of the parents didn’t have answers to that question. After working with the students for a year, I have learned that one of them likes to draw the other like to rap, often teachers see the potential of their students better than their parents. Parallel to discovering children’s potential, Zina discovered her own potential and fully invested it in the implementation of her goals. During hard times and desperate moments, her goals became her strength.  “The most difficult time was the first October. Everything seemed to go wrong I even thought about giving up and ending the Fellowship. Every day I used to come home and cry, I wasn’t able to finish my work on time, and nothing was going right. I was under a lot of stress and began to doubt myself: am I the right person to teach? Things became extremely chaotic. However, when I wrote my goals I once again was motivated, I reminded myself why I am here. That gave me the strength to continue my job. I even at some point wrote the reason why I came to Lernahovit and posted it on my wall, every morning when woke up I was reminded of that reason. My boyfriend helped me a lot as well...” she commented.
 
Zina learned about Teach For Armenia from her boyfriend. They decided to apply together then he found another job but encouraged Zina to follow her dream.
Zina Ghukasyan Zina Ghukasyan

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


“He never tried to stop me, he was ready to help with everything, he was always by my side and said that could come with me if there is a need, and everything will be alright. Of course, we had fears and doubts, but we were sure that if there is a goal which motivates and makes us happy, then we can’t keep one another from meeting those goals. It’s not just a demonstration of love. I think my boyfriend knows more about my students than anyone else. We have a special time in the evenings when I call him and share with him my day and the highlight of the day. I share my excitement with and my doubts and when it seems like the world is falling apart he alway motivates me to go on.”
 
Students are very sad they won’t “let” Ms. Ghukasyan go. “If she wasn’t engaged we would keep her in our village and find a good husband for her”, - said one of her students. The school’s principal’s husband asked “if we give you and your future husband and a house will you stay in Lernahovit?”

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


Lernahovit has an indispensable place in Zina’s life. Here she discovered not only her dreams but also the courage to fight for her dreams.
 
“I’m definitely happy. I think that my life is being built on two very important pillars: my personal relationship and my strengths”. 
 

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


“No matter how many difficulties I have faced, how many Octobers will be in my life, they will never hurt my happiness and satisfaction. There were fewer moments of sadness than happiness, when one of your students who has never raised his hand, does so for the first time, when the student with whom you worked so hard with during the year so he can say “hi” to you, when you see that the student who has never been active during classes takes part in the school performance and you see him laugh and smile, at that moment you get butterflies in your stomach, and you begin to cry and laugh at the same time. Those may seem like small achievements from the side, however when you are looking from within those are the greatest achievements. The smallest step of each student on their way to success is a great satisfaction and happiness".

Lusine Gharibyan

Photos and video by Vaghinak Ghazaryan (for Mediamax)

VivaCell-MTS is the general partner of the project

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