MONTEBELLO–Seventeen high school world history teachers from the Montebello Unified School District were given new tools to teach about the Armenian genocide during a day long Workshop–held Wednesday January 18 at the Montebello Armenian Center.
Organized by the San Gabriel Valley Armenian National Committee (SGV ANC)–the Seminar was conducted by the staff of the Facing History and Ourselves–(FHAO) headed by Dan Alba–the Director of the Los Angeles FHAO.
Welcoming the participants to the Seminar were Bill Whitmore–the Director of Secondary Education at MUSD and Viken Pakradouni of the SGV ANC. The teachers attending the seminar came from the three regular high schools of the District–Montebello High–Schurr High–and Bell Gardens–as well as the Vail High continuation school.
FHAO Program Associate Eftihia Danellis led the seminar. Also addressing the educators was Armenian Educational Foundation Professor of Modern Armenian History at UCLA–Professor Richard Hovannisian.
Aimed at encouraging the participation of the teachers–the morning session included the showing of the 10-minute documentary film clip about the Armenian genocide from the ABC-TV series "The Great War," and documentary materials about the 1915 crime against humanity.
As part of the seminar–participants went to different stations where they were exposed to survivor accounts–media coverage of the 1915 Genocide–eyewitness photos taken by German Army medical officer Armin Wegner–and maps detailing evacuation routes–deportations–and deaths in the Ottoman Empire.
During the afternoon session of the seminar–the group reviewed the range of choices available to those aware of the Genocide at the time–and discussed various eyewitness testimonies–including a filmed clip of the US Ambassador to Turkey during that time–Henry Morgenthau–and others such as Peter Balakian.
At the beginning of the workshop–each teacher was given two books. The first was the Facing History resource book–"Crimes Against Humanity and Civilization: The Genocide of the Armenia’s." The second book was the ANC-commissioned book by Professor Simon Payaslian "The Armenian Genocide: A Handbook for Students and Teachers."
Following the seminar–one of the high school teachers evaluated the workshop as the "best workshop in a very long time." One of the educators observed he had learned "just about everything related to the Armenian genocide." Most of the teachers pointed to Professor Hovannisian’s contribution as "tremendous." All the participants reported they were extremely pleased with the quality of the speakers and the program in general. The teachers reported that they teach a total of 2,273 students in their daily history classes. The educators’ evaluation also revealed their interest in transmitting the information and methodology into their classrooms.
One of the educators at the Montebello Seminar underlined the benefit of such a workshop to local teachers. "I was shocked to discover that–while the history department teachers in our school know about the Armenian genocide–they had never taught about it because they felt they lacked the knowledge and tools to teach it," said Elizabeth Kocharian–a World History teacher at Bell Gardens High School.
"I am grateful to the ANC for co-sponsoring this event. This is an important historical occurrence–which must never be forgotten and must be taught to all students–regardless of nationality."
The Montebello Unified School District assumed half the cost of the workshop–with the other half underwritten by the SGV ANC. "We are thankful to the School District for seeing the importance of such a program and supporting it wholeheartedly," Pakradouni said. "And–we must not forget to thank the Facing History and Ourselves Director and staff for putting together such a professional and informative program to benefit the students and teachers in our district."
The San Gabriel Valley ANC is exploring additional avenues to expose the lessons of the Armenian genocide to other school districts–and possibly opening the program to American history–as well as other social sciences.
Although this was the first such Genocide Workshop in the Montebello School District–FHAO has conducted similar workshops in Glendale and Pasadena–as well as school districts in New Mexico and other parts of the country. A four-day institute on the Armenian genocide will be presented June 25-30 in the Bay Area for about 20 California teachers.
FHAO is an international educational organization that helps teachers and students link history to the moral choices they face today.