Kindergarten in Aragatsavan: Employing New Approaches to Prepare 200 Children for the Modern World
There’s only one kindergarten in Aragatsavan, a village in Armenia’s Aragatsotn Province.
When we go in, the children sit still and watch us. We’re strangers, and they look at us with suspicion. However, when we say hello, they unanimously shout back "Hel-lo!"
The pavement of the yard has deteriorated; it gets dusty when the kids run. There are only a few slides in the playground. A colorful train, composed of children, passes through the garden and again appears in the yard.
When we look for the director, one of the staff members asks us to wait a bit as the director is painting the floor together with some workers.
Most windows in the pre-school are old. Some flowers and leaves have been put in the glass of one of them, aiming to disguise the old window.
The walls of the long corridor are decorated with colored animals. Some are painted on the walls. There are big puppets imitating the four seasons on penoplast boards in a hall adjacent to the corridor. A painting of Noah's Ark and Noah appears next to the director's office. All this has been made by the staff, on the director’s initiative. The staff says the director participates in all kinds of works.
School Director Ruzanna Melkonyan then comes in and apologizes for making us wait. They’ve used some broken tiles and collected a mosaic for the corridor floor. "Everything is done here with creative approaches, and the floor is our initiative, too," says the director and leads us to her office.
Melkonyan says that besides the computer table, that was bought from the store, the rest of the furniture - wooden table, bench, furniture - is made in-house. She even brought wood from her home. When the pre-school opened, she was the one to bring the utensils and other essentials.
"This is a big family, where even ten drams cannot be squandered. It should be spent for children’s needs," says the director.
The pre-school was founded in 2010. Since the village is big, residents had appealed to the municipality to open a kindergarten. After the independence of Armenia, there was a short-lived kindergarten. The building, where the pre-school is now located, was a typical kindergarten building.
Director Melkonyan says that after graduating from school she worked for a while in the former kindergarten. She is a philologist, and years ago served as principal of one of the two schools in Aragatsavan.
The pre-school opens at 10 am and closes at 4 pm. The director says that when founding the pre-school, she wanted this one to be different from the Soviet-era kindergartens. For example, the children aren’t put to sleep at the pre-school, but, instead, they have time for rest. They eat in the cafeteria, and while they lunch, the rooms are ventilated.
The pre-school is for 4-6 year olds. The director says that now, when even 4-5 year olds are able to use the computer, children should be educated by modern methods. "Here, they grow up in a creative environment, where there is goodness, peace, development and activity," she adds.
180 children from Aragatsavan and nearby villages attend the pre-school. Enrollment used to be more than 200. Monthly tuition is 4,000 drams ($8.40). Emigration has impacted enrollment. The director notes that the residents are moving to Russia with their families.
The director and the staff say that even if they try to do whatever they can, like finding new artistic solutions for the building, there are problems they cannot solve on their own.
When the pre-school was newly founded, the roof of the building was partially replaced with the USAID funding. The main problem remains heating the building. They put a fireplace in the hall and burn wood, and use electric heaters in the rooms, but it’s impossible to heat the building equitably. The next issue is changing the windows and improving the yard.
The pre-school belongs to the community. The Aragatsavan Municipality funds it, but the community budget isn’t sufficient to address the above-mentioned issues.
The director receives the highest salary, 80,000 drams monthly, while teachers and other staffers are paid an average of 46,000 drams.
"This is a big family where we work with dedication," says Ruzanna Melkonyan, adding that many love to criticize, but to change the world, people should start from their own small corner of the world.
Melkonyan says that the school’s goal is "raising peace loving and kind children in these difficult times."
Photos: Hakob Poghosyan