Dixie Canyon Elementary
Sara Chitjian taught sixth grade at Dixie Canyon from 1973 to 1978.
At Dixie Canyon Elementary, this would be the first time I did anything Armenian. the school had a special program that none of my other schools had. It was called the “Mini Class” which would take place during the last two months of the school year. The teacher had to pick a topic to teach one hour a week that was not already in the school curriculum. It could be in sports, history, anything a teacher wanted to teach. I stopped to think what I could teach and realized I did not have any special skills outside what I already taught. All of a sudden, I thought of Armenia, although there were only one or two Armenians in schhol. So I asked the principle if I could do a class on Armenian Culture and Betty Friedman (the Principle) said yes, as long as there were 15 students enrolled in the class. When the day came for the students to choose, only 11 showed up. I went back to the principle and said only 11 students showed up and she said if no one drops out I could keep the class which would last 8 weeks.
For the first class I wrote three Armenian names on the board and asked the students what could they see in common and they all raised their hands to say, “IAN”! And one of the students in the mini class was a child named Lee Kafafian who was the grandson of the famous Eddie Cantor and now became excited about his ancestry. I wrote Lee’s name with Armenian characters and all the students responded with excitement that they too wanted their names written in Armenian. So for the next class I brought in Armenian Manuscripts with beautiful letters and had my father write all the kids names in Armenian so the students could copy it with their own handwriting, while learning about the Armenian alphabet. While their noses were down to the paper and crayon decorating their names, I was reading about Mesrop Mashtots, the inventor of the Armenian alphabet. For 45 minutes, they were all excited looking at the various Armenian manuscripts and I was pleased that they were all enjoying the experience. And for homework, I said they had to research out who invented the English alphabet, knowing they would not be able to find it.
The second day of this mini class it was April 24th, so I took two students with parent permission, who were half Armenian to downtown Los Angeles where a gathering was taking place about The Armenian Genocide.
On the third class I wanted to show Michael Hagopian’s film about my father’s story of Genocide survival to the students. I asked them to get their parents permission first and they all shouted out, “Ahh Miss Chitjian, we have seen worse than that”.
The next class was during Easter so I brought in eggs to teach them how Armenians dye their eggs in a traditional way using onion skins, herbs and hosiery. They all wrapped their eggs, we boiled them and when class resumed they excited unwrapped their eggs and were so impressed with the various designs they got.
For the final class I had my mother make boureg (cheese turnover) and yalanchi (wrapped grape leaves) and took it to school unbaked so we could all enjoy it together. At the end of the day, a little Estonian girl taps me on the arm and says that her mom wants to come see what we are doing. So I realized I needed a program for the parents and established one within a week. By the second year forward, the auditorium was full with students and parents due to the great success of the program.
Hampartzoum Chitjian’s Most Joyous Day!
Hampartzoum let it be known that his most joyous occasion in his life was the work his daughter Sara was doing by teaching children and bringing them awareness and understanding about Armenian culture, history and thus the Armenian Genocide. Hampartzoum spent his entire life dedicated to bring awareness to his experiences as a Genocide survivor and unfortunately it often fell on deaf ears from other adults. However he noticed that Sara’s students not only listened but they embraced! It was these experiences that would become the spark of hope, the birth of The Chitjian Collection.
Special Moments from Dixie Canyon
Dixie Canyon and The Mini Class
The Mini Class was a unique experience that had been offered at Dixie Canyon Elementary school for years, but this was a new experience for Sara. The Mini class was held the last Thursday of the week, for 6 weeks. In the last 8 weeks of a year round school program and every teacher was required to pick a topic for 6 weeks that wasn’t in the school’s district curriculum, It had to be an extra curriculum subject.
Predominantly the classes focused on various courses that encompassed short story writing, motion picture, the arts, music programs and sports. Depending on whatever ability the particular teacher had that she/he could teach for 6 weeks and were enjoyed by the student in 4th grade- 6th grade among 500 students. Sara was stumped and did not feel that she was qualified to teach any of these topics. The only subject she could think of was Armenian culture, even though she had no idea what that would entail!
The Only requirement given by the Principle stated that each class must have at least 15 students for the class to remain. On the first day, only 11 out of 500 students showed up and Sara questioned why any student would show up to an Armenian culture class when they could have attended a “fun” class. Fortunately the principal said that the class could continue given that no one drops out. Under pressure Sara wrote her name on the blackboard along with the name of two other Armenian teachers and asked the students what they saw in common? The students shouted out “ian” and Sara answered that’s how you identify an Armenian. A little student named Lee raised his hand and said my last name ends in “ian” and it turns out he was half Armenian. Luckily his name was lee and with Sara’s meager Armenian spelling was able to write his name on the board. Immediately all 10 hands went up and they wanted their names written out in calligraphy too, a skill Sara did not have. That night when Sara came home, she told her father about the class experience and asked her father to write each child’s name on a slip of paper that they could later trace because Sara knew her father would be delighted to participate. The Following week Sara’s father not only had the students name written down, but had also written a poem in calligraphy.
This is How it all began….The weeks to follow were magical and passed much too quickly. The students learned about various Armenian activities, observed April 24th by watching Michael Hagopian’s Genocide Film and attending the march, they ate Armenian food such as Yalanchee and Borag which Sara’s mom help make for each one of the students. As the end of the program came to a closure one of Sara’s student, a little Estonian girl asked Sara if her mother could come to see the activities the following week. Sara told her student, that she herself would like to have her friends and family visit. On the 6th day they collectively decided to showcase their 6 week course work for all parents to see as a performance, by this time the program had gone past the 6 weeks and only had 2 weeks left before summer break, thus the following week the students all got together before school, morning recess, lunch recess and after school where they planned a program for the final week. Sara had the Tree Bears and Goldie Locks translated into Armenian for the kids to act out and before Sara knew it, the parents immediately made costumes for the three bear’s and collectively wrote a script to display the kids experience during the 6 week classes.
The following 3 years, Sara continued to build her program and the program with time became more elaborate, as she transferred over to Ramona Elementary school in Hollywood to be with the influx of Armenian Students. At the same time Sara was working on the Inservice courses for the teachers, creating an Armenian Teacher Association, and The Armenian Urban Center.
This Part of the Collection Interweaves Sara’s work with Hampartzoum’s experience and inspires Hampartzoum to start writing whatever came to his mind “on any given day,” leading up to the other parts of the collection depicting his saga and outlining Sara’s triumphs.
First Program from The Mini Class Series
Recordings from some of Sara’s Mini Class projects.
Sara Chitjian showed students in her 6th grade class a Michael Hagopian documentary about The Armenian Genocide which features conversations with her father Hampartzoum regarding his first hand experiences. After watching the film, Sara guides a discussion with the class on the topic of Genocide.
6th Grade Parent and Student from Dixie Canyon Mini Class
Armenian easter Egg Making
Sara taught her students at Dixie Canyon the Armenian technique of making Easter Eggs.
Dixie Canyon, The Root of The Collection