BY EMIL TATEVOSIAN
The Richard Tufenkian Pre-School sponsored a group of teachers to attend a two-day workshop organized by five Reggio Emilia-inspired schools located in the West Los Angeles.
This uplifting gathering was entitled Provoking Empathy, Kindness and Community through Observation, Documentation and Reflection. For years, the Tufenkian Pre-School director, Arsine Aghazarian, has shared with her School Board her vision and ideas which were rooted in the Reggio Emilia teaching philosophy.
Reggio Emilia is a small village in Italy. After World War II the name became synonymous with a teaching philosophy. This decades-tested approach is student-centric. Each child is allowed to learn and explore through developing relationships with other children, the teacher, and the curriculum. In this environment, the teacher is not an instructor but a collaborator and parents are vital in creating the learning village. This philosophy isn’t novel to our culture as we generally embrace the role of the teacher and parent very differently than the typical non-Armenian school. However, for any educational philosophy to be successful it must first become organic to the school’s cultural values and community priorities; as such, no two schools will ever have identical programs. And our school will be unique in its ability to weave the key elements of the Reggio Emilia philosophy into our community and school culture.
Aghazarian’s steadfast commitment to these ideas inspired me to do my own research and the culmination of that effort was spending two days with her and twelve teachers and experiencing their excitement about getting creative in ways to practice their inspiration at our school. As I listened to one particular speaker say that “children” are not a singular noun but a plural verb, I quickly understood that children can be amazing sources of empathy and kindness in building strong communities. Another keynote speaker, the renowned Dr. Dan Siegel, took us on a brief journey to scientifically explore the make-up of the human brain to only end at the firm belief that yes, compassion and kindness can be thought.
The workshop strongly confirmed Aghazarian’s steady, but financially limited, renovation of the campus with more children-focused and nature-based outdoor spaces, with harmonious neutral colors that replaced the former bright colors, and with a refreshed environment that allows children the openness to absorb new experiences. The Reggio Emilia approach has been in the works for years at the Tufenkian Pre-School where they have slowly, incrementally, and patiently shaped the curriculum with student-centered spaces, environments and activities. This is very different from a group of toddlers sitting around a large table and all of them involved in the same single activity. In fall of 2016, Mrs. Aghazarian, with some of her colleagues at the time, explored this philosophy first hand with native educators in Reggio Emilia. She returned home with a renewed commitment to this approach.
I walked away with a renewed inspiration to design better preschool and kindergarten classes and environments. This opportunity was timely as the School Board has been working diligently on a campus renovation master plan. The design team is currently developing the design to renovate the existing buildings and classrooms and weave them into the multiple outdoor spaces envisioned by the campus master plan. We are optimistic that as we work closely with the City of Glendale to secure our entitlements, we will be able to count on our community and active financial partners to incrementally implement our vision.
Emil Tatevosian is the chairman of the Richard Tufenkian Pre-School Board.