Aregnasan. The Waldorf school in Yerevan defies the crisis

Ruben Janibekyan

Current situation

The year 2020 was extraordinarily difficult for all of Armenia. First, the already weak economy contracted sharply in spring 2020 because of the pandemic. In one fell swoop, a third of the parents became unemployed and unable to pay, and another third got into serious difficulties paying the full school fees. The school’s administration was inundated with requests from parents for a payment break or reduction. Some parents also refused to pay in full because, of course, with online teaching the Waldorf quality disappeared completely. The school was in financial difficulties, an existential crisis was looming.

The situation deteriorated drastically once again when the conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh flared up again at the end of September. The psychological state of the parents, children and staff was quite depressing at that time. Eleven former pupils were in the war, one of them was killed, another was wounded. The shock to the school community was great. The situation still remains complicated. The post-war conditions gnaw at the soul. Without the generous financial and human support of the Friends of Waldorf Education, it would not have been possible to get through the summer. The school also received money from the Friends for the refugees who fled homeless and without any resources from Karabakh to Armenia. We were able to make an old house habitable again for one family.

The “ZEIG” Waldorf orchestra

Since autumn 2019, the “ZEIG” (“Dawn”) music band has been working at the Aregnasan Waldorf School. It has a wide repertoire of folk songs which it either arranges itself in folk or folk-rock style or adopts from other similar groups. The band is led by our former pupil Artur Atayan, whom the school invited to lead the project.

The band has already given many concerts, including for the children of refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh. The songs are sung in their respective languages – Armenian, German, English, Breton, Czech and Old Swedish.

School projects in upper school

At the moment, our school can hardly afford the project work in upper school that is usual at Waldorf schools. We have asked one of our colleagues to take on this task and implement it in some way so that the upper school pupils can individually do some creative work. They are not projects in the classic sense because they are done during lessons and the pupils are also about two years younger than usual. That is why we often call this project work presentations.

Pupils choose a topic that really interests them and then work on it with the support of a mentor. At the end of the school year or semester, the work is presented in front of the class or the upper school and faculty, depending on how deeply and seriously the work has been thought about and done. In 2021, we gave this somewhat dormant tradition a makeover and with it the life of the school.

Against the current

The “Aregnasan” Waldorf School is always paddling against the current. This is not only happening in the field of education. At the end of December 2020, the school organised a celebration for the children immediately after the war, despite the resignation in Armenian society and state decrees on Covid-19. However, everything was done with the appropriate tact and consideration for the situation in the country.

As always, the classes showed some of the things they had learned during the year. The faculty did not on this occasion put on a Christmas play. Instead, the teachers, together with a group of parents from various classes, organised a large gingerbread town, which occupied a prominent place in the foyer of the theatre. An excursion through the town became the highlight of the day’s programme.

In the 2020 school year, the school was unable to organise a proper school festival for the graduates at that time because of the very strict state regulations.

According to our tradition, the first thing the graduating class does on the last day of school is to visit all the other Waldorf classes who have prepared words of farewell, a song or skit for the graduates. Then teachers, pupils and parents gather in a large room to conduct “the last lesson” or “the last class” together. Warm words of farewell are spoken and good wishes expressed or funny or striking episodes from their school life together are remembered. In the evening, there is a school party where all the classes, sometimes the teachers and definitely the outgoing class perform something.

This year we ignored the rules which had anyway been relaxed a little. And it was worth it. Almost all the teachers and some parents felt that the being of the school had been waiting for this for a long time. It was like a new big breath in the spiritual and soul air space.

A new Waldorf school in “Aregnavan”

In 2015, the faculty decided to open a second stream. The number of enrolments grew so much every year that in 2014 we already had 85 (of which we could only admit 38 pupils, but this is quite a lot for one class), in 2015 it was 120 (already two class 1s admitted with a total of 64 children) and in 2016 – 150. So the decision of 2015 had objective reasons.

On the other hand, the space was very cramped at that time, as it still is today. At present, 560 pupils attend the school. The school has already sacrificed all kinds of rooms, such as the staff room.

At the same time, the faculty had been thinking about a new school outside of Yerevan for four or five years. Parents donated a 2.6 hectare plot of land near the city to the school. This gave the thought itself a certain foundation, gave the still abstract ideas and dreams a bit more reality.

Three years have passed since then and the idea of a new school in “Aregnavan” (as we call the future development that will be built around the new school) has become much more concrete. An architect, father of a graduate, is working intensively on the design. We hope to get a general plan and all the necessary drawings from him and his office during the summer break in order to get a building permit. In autumn, we hope to be able to start the construction work.

The project is partly financed by local investors. The main sponsor of the project is the Friends of Waldorf Education; anyone who would like to support our project can contact them.

About the author: Ruben Djanibekyan is a doctor and lived in Germany from 1992 to 1998 where he attended the medical seminar at the Filderklinik hospital and the teacher training seminar in Stuttgart. He has worked for the last twenty years at the Yerevan Waldorf School, today “Aregnasan”, as a school doctor, biology teacher and on the administrative council.