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Feeding minds and souls

Audrey Hovannesian nominated Daily Press Person of the Year

Editor's note:

Today we continue our 10-part series profiling some of the people who made a difference in 2012. Those profiled were nominated by Daily Press readers, with the finalists selected by the Daily Press staff.

Joyce Applegarth: Learning through teaching

For Audrey Hovannesian, being an effective teacher means spending time both in the classroom and in her students' homes.

Hovannesian was nominated for Daily Press Person of the Year by her neighbor Dawn Zenor, who described Hovannesian’s work at Hook Junior High School to start the 100 Dinners Project, in which teachers ate dinner at their students’ homes.

“I have witnessed the tears and emotions these teachers had after their visits when they discovered how great their students and their families were,” Zenor explained in her nomination letter. “I've seen the smiles on the parents’ faces when Audrey has shared pictures of her dinners.”

Hovannesian explained that her dedication to education was by instilled by her librarian mother and Green Beret father. Hovannesian was raised in the Los Angeles Basin and moved to the High Desert at 17.

With a bachelor’s degree, teaching certification and master’s degree from California State University, San Bernardino, Hovannesian has held multiple teaching positions in San Bernardino and the High Desert.

Hovannesian is planning to receive her doctorate in education in June, and wrote her dissertation on the 100 Dinners Project.

Q: You started the 100 Dinner Project. In a nutshell, what does the program do?

A: The 100 Dinners Project took place at Hook Junior High School from 2010-2012 and included seven teachers and staff and 140 students and their families. I attended 100 dinners personally. Teachers were taken outside of the classroom to join their student and their family for a meal in the student’s home to discuss grades and get to know the family better. Meals are often a great place for social interaction unlike a traditional parent teacher conference. During meals we share, talk, learn and laugh while enjoying a good meal. Often the meal itself tells its own story by giving unspoken details about a person’s background. Armed with this new information, teachers worked to incorporate the newly learned information about their students’ home lives into their educational decisions...

Q: How has spending time in your students’ homes changed your perspective as their teacher?

A: I have realized that each student brings special skills and knowledge (called funds of knowledge) into the classroom. Those “funds” need to be celebrated and recognized in our lessons and classroom procedures to help students connect to what they are learning. Instead of teaching “my way” year after year, I need to engage my students and parents so I can understand who they are, what they know and what they want.

Q: Tell us about your work with the Hovannesian Feeding Foundation.

A: The Hovannesian Feeding Foundation was established in 2007 after my daughter, Vivian, was diagnosed with Kabuki Syndrome and required a stomach feeding tube. The feeding foundation offers free stomach feeding supplies to children internationally at no cost in order to give their families relief and peace of mind.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time? Any hobbies?

A: I enjoy spending time with my husband and three children. I love to read and enjoy being with close friends. I love attending community events. I am an avid runner and exercise every day. Exercise keeps me focused and happy. I often get my best ideas for projects or lessons while running on High Desert streets and seeing our community first hand.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A: In 10 years I will be the mother of three teenagers acting as an advocate for their education. I see myself publishing and lecturing on school disconnect and community engagement. I hope to be involved in research projects as well.

Q: What was the most interesting thing you have learned about the High Desert through the 100 Dinners Project?

A: We are so similar. Whether you have been in the High Desert 20 years or five years, we are all struggling with similar issues economically, personally and educationally. But when communication is not clear, it is difficult to work together to solve some of these issues. I also learned that everyone involved in my students’ education has the best intentions, but again, not communicating those intentions with all parties leaves people frustrated.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges facing children in the High Desert?

A: According to my research, the biggest challenges or “barriers” which decrease school connectedness in the High Desert are; (1) Students and families that have recently moved to the high desert have been displaced from family and friends and feel a lack of community, (2) Some parents are away from home and commuting large distances to work which makes an established academic routine difficult, (3) Students are having a difficult time returning assignments, and (4) Many students are dealing with difficult issues in their lives such as divorce, deaths, health issues and family issues.

Q: In your years as a teacher, what have you learned from your students?

A: I have learned patience and compassion. I have learned to laugh and am reminded of how hard it is to be a kid sometimes. I have also learned that children sitting in classrooms today are receiving a much different education than I or their parents received. It is important for everyone involved in the education of children to be taught the “new rules” of the classroom in terms of grading and standardized testing. Education is a whole new ball game nowadays, especially in the High Desert.

Q: How did you get involved with teaching?

A: My original background is in business. Having worked with my father in his janitorial business from the age of 5 years old, I set out to receive a degree in accounting, but had an interest in theater scene construction and costume design. I winded up teaching theater to children at High Desert Church, and decided to go into teaching full time. I received my first job in San Bernardino City Unified School District three days after I graduated with my BA. I taught there for 5 years, then spent three years working in Redlands as a project coordinator, after I taught in Apple Valley and finally in Victorville. I still feed my passion for business as my husband and I have owned Diamond Collision Center in Apple Valley for 10 years.

Q: What is your favorite thing about the High Desert?

A: My favorite thing about the High Desert is the resiliency and creativity of its residents. On a daily basis I meet people interested in making their community a better place. It would be great to have a common goal such as identifying and sustaining a true sense of “community” throughout the High Desert rather than having people focused on so many individual projects. Everyone wants to do the right thing; it just appears that their efforts need to be better orchestrated at times.

Q: Do you have any role models? Who inspires you?

A: I have been blessed with many mentors who inspire me every day through their guidance, kind words and support. Many are current and former educators who have up to 40 years of experience in education and have weathered the changes in education to become wonderful sources on information and inspiration. People such as Dick Sauers, former Granite Hills Principal and current AVUSD Board Member, my former department chair Nancy Noble, my mentor teacher Joy Van Hook and my committee chair Dr. Marita Mahoney.

Q: What are your dreams and ambitions for the future?

A: My dreams and ambitions for the future are to create a safe and productive educational environment for students of the High Desert whether doing so through teaching, research, or just being a strong advocate for my own children and the children of the High Desert.

Q: What are simple things you believe people can do to make a difference in their community?

A: Stop and take time to talk. Get to know your neighbors and people around you. View differences in one another as pieces of the fabric which make up a community quilt instead of viewing differences as reasons to shut down and disconnect. High Desert residents need to understand our community has changed and identify how to be part of this new community rather than viewing the change as bad.

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