From preschool to school-Elena's formula

Elena is a strong girl who overcame many difficulties before she could go to school. She first enrolled in the Yerevan kindergarten No. 92, where UNICEF supported the establishment of rehabilitation services

Zhanna Ulikhanyan
Վարդագույն բլուզով Էլենան նստած է գրասեղանի մոտ իրենց լուսավոր դասասենյակում:
UNICEF Armenia/2019/Pizzoferrato
02 April 2019

Elena is an eight-year-old girl. She’s in the second grade at school. One would think that this would hold true for all eight-year-old children, but this isn’t the case. There are many eight-year-old boys and girls in Armenia who don’t go to school because they are perceived to be a bit different from the rest. Elena hears, sees and feels the world and people in her own way. She is not yet able to speak, but she has her own way of expressing her feelings. When she’s excited, she runs around and makes loud exclamations to expresses herself. When she’s very tired or bored, she sits on the floor to rest.

Elena is a strong girl who overcame many difficulties before she could go to school. She first enrolled in the Yerevan kindergarten No. 92, where UNICEF supported the establishment of rehabilitation services for children with disabilities or development delays. Since 2015, the kindergarten provides many children, including boys and girls with disabilities, with quality inclusive early childhood education. This has been a lifesaver both for children and parents, as learning and rehabilitation services are offered in one place, so they do not have to rush from one place to another. “Once Elena started attending kindergarten, she began to adhere to a certain routine. It is here that she learned to sit at the table to have her own meal. She also learned to wash her teeth by herself,” says Elena’s mother Melea.

"In preschool she got much needed guidance and I was happy and at ease knowing that my daughter was in the care of specialists. It also meant that I had the time to run errands and get work done."

Elena and her mom hugging in the school.
UNICEF Armenia/2019/Pizzoferrato

Her time in the kindergarten really helped Elena to confidently transition to a public school where she has friends and a wonderful teacher, Mrs. Yeritsyan. “All my students are equal in my eyes. I don’t distinguish between them in or outside of class. At parent-teacher meetings, we acknowledge and discuss the achievements of each and every one,” says Yeritsyan. “Elena has changed a lot since the first grade. She enjoys games very much and loves role plays. She is great at drawing, and her work is very colorful.”

Mrs. Yeritsyan has been teaching for 22 years. She says inclusion has been a natural process in her classroom. She tries to ensure advance discussion with parents of children with and without disabilities to address questions and concerns, as adults have more misconceptions than children. “I am humbled by parents of children with disabilities. I have to commend their dedication, infinite patience, and tireless effort to be of full support to their children. I only wish every parent could spent so much quality time with their child.”

Elena's teacher guides her sitting next to her.
UNICEF Armenia/2019/Pizzoferrato

When it comes to public attitudes towards disability, there has been some progress in Armenia over the past few years, albeit slow. While acceptance of children with physical disability to attend public school was at 51 percent in 2015, as of 2018, it has increased to 69 percent. There has been more progress for children with intellectual disabilities, as the level of acceptance to attend public school has increased from 13 percent in 2015 to 44 percent in 2018.

“Labeling, neglect, and stereotyping are some of the social barriers that children with disabilities and their families face in the society. Public opinion plays a major role in creating an environment that promotes the rights of vulnerable children and empowers them,” notes Tanja Radocaj, UNICEF Representative in Armenia. “Since 2014, UNICEF has worked with partners, including UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassador Henrikh Mkhitaryan, to improve social inclusion of children with disabilities through campaigning and policy advocacy

Elena communicates with her classmate during the arts and crafts lesson.
UNICEF Armenia/2019/Pizzoferrato

UNICEF also supports the Government of Armenia in education and child care reforms, so that every child has access to mainstream inclusive education from early childhood to adolescence. This has meant, supporting teachers with professional development, working with the Pedagogical University to improve coursework for the future teachers, and contributing to the comprehensive process of transforming special schools.

Elena and her mom are smiling to the camera.
UNICEF Armenia/2019/Pizzoferrato

Melea says that ultimately the key is to be able to accept your own child as he or she is. “Every parent, who is faced with a diagnosis for their child that they do not understand much at first sight, goes through a process of shock and acceptance. It is very important to have the support of professionals and other parents who have overcome these issues. Everyone in the family should be involved, so that the mother is not left alone. My husband has been very involved and Elena’s connection with him is very important to her.”

Elena is smiling while trying  to craft an animal with colorful papers.
UNICEF Armenia/2019/Pizzoferrato

Elena is an eight-year-old girl. Her favorite color is pink and she likes to draw and listen to music. Elena loves to play around with her classmates, as well as her dolls when she’s at home. Like all other children, Elena has her own dreams and plans for her future. Ultimately, that’s all that matters!