Armenian Sisters’ Academy in Boston closes doors

Armenian Sisters’ Academy in Boston closes doors

Wicked Local Lexington – Boxes full of unused school supplies with the label “Armenia” taped to them sat in empty hallways awaiting shipment as Sister Nelly Isin made preparations to close her elementary school this month instead of preparing for opening day.

“I am working every day to clear things and go over the books to give over to Rome to sell when they come,” said Isin, the principal of the Armenian Sisters’ Academy on Pelham Road and a member of the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.

Over the past several years, the academy has experienced financial hardship, and leaders have thought a number of times closing was the only option for the school, which is certified to teach pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade students.

Each time, parents would come together to volunteer their time and partake in fundraising to save the school. Though the Armenian community came together in force this year, it was not enough to save the school, according to Mayda Melkonian, vice principal of the academy.

“Somehow, this was not the year,” Melkonian said.

In June, the academy sent out a notice notifying parents would be officially closed their doors. According to Melkonian, the closing is due chiefly to a lack of enrollment.

“It’s very sad. My children have attended here,” Melkonian said. “It was very hard specifically for my son. He wanted his son to go to this school, but this is what happens.”

During the 2013-2014 school year, 72 students were enrolled, the majority of them in the pre-kindergarten program. In the early 2000s, enrollment hovered around 100 students, with about a quarter of the population in the pre-kindergarten program.

“The alumni worked very hard,” Isin said. “The parents worked very, very hard.”

The school administration and families have tried of a variety of cost-saving methods, including installing skylights to conserve energy and keep costs down.

“It’s the Lord’s light,” Isin said as she walked down the hall under the skylights.

Old metal desks squeaked from rust, and many of the rooms were locked, filled with files, supplies and fixtures from the rest of the school. Many of the lockers are open for cleaning.

“Many of the rooms now are storage,” Isin said.

The school was accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

Melkonian said students underwent a rigorous education in standard subjects alongside deep exposure to Armenian culture and language. Pictures of Armenian saints hung next to poster projects of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

“We kept really high academic standards,” Melkonian said.

Armenian Sisters’ Academy strove to preserve their culture through education. According to Isin, education of the Armenian language was strongly reinforced by teaching the kindergarten classes exclusively in Armenian. Moving on, students would have one 45-minute period a day in Armenian.

The building was constructed by the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, known as the “Grey Nuns,” as a Catholic elementary school in 1961. Armenian Sisters’ Academy opened in 1983, after the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in Rome bought the building from the Grey Nuns.

“We will sell the building,” Isin said.

According to Isin, the Lexington Public School system has shown interest in the building.

Reflecting on the past

Isin remembered a time when the school was almost exclusively comprised of students with Armenian heritage.

“Years ago, we only had four or five Americans,” Isin said. “I used to do the prayers in English not for the kids, but for the teachers.”

Melkonian said some of the students would be attending a few private schools in the area. Most of the 58 students who attended ASA last year began their new year and a new chapter in the public school system this year.

She said parents approached her for Armenian tutoring.

“This is a very hard situation we’re going through and we need time to think,” Melkonian said.

Passing by a poem called “The Man with the Funny Hat,” written by Garen Meguerditchian and dedicated to the late Rev. Raphael Andonian, Isin was obviously moved.

“A mother told me that she was crying about a poem her son Garen had written,” Isin said. “It’s beautiful.”

In one particular passage, the poem reads, “Here in this Catholic school I first met him, Here in this school of prayer. A school where our teachers were like parents, a school full of love and care.”

“The years I spent here are years I cannot forget,” Isin said. “We were like friends, especially with the seventh and eighth grades.”

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