Person To Watch
Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Directions available online clearly outline to prospective students how to reach the Boston College campus, whether they’re coming by car, plane, or public transportation. Yet the journey to college for a number of the nation’s students is much more difficult than any campus map projects. Higher education remains a privilege afforded to students fortunate enough to be raised in an environment where someone in their lives ensured that education was valued. Hrag Hamalian, BC ’05, is working to change the stark inequality among different communities, educational levels, and socioeconomic backgrounds present in higher education today.
In addition to a genuine passion for learning, as evident from his degrees in English and biology, Hamalian’s experiences outside the classrooms at BC—including tutoring Boston youth and teaching in summer camps—combined with teaching as part of Teach for America motivated him to found Valor Academy, a charter school for students in fifth through eighth grade in Panorama City, Calif. Public schools with no additional tuition or stipulations for entrance, charter schools are independent from the governance of school districts, which grants them the power to shape their own curriculum. Valor Academy places a high value on literacy and mathematics by spending nearly two times the normal amount on the subjects each day, offers free tutoring to students, and utilizes a longer school day. Equally important, the school strives to emphasize the importance of attending college by making college a part of its students’ environment. For instance, a number of classrooms are named after local universities. In addition to a deep commitment to education itself, Hamalian reflected, “What got me to fall in love with education as a profession is that it is the final frontier where major innovation needs to be made. Education is such an open domain in terms of what people can do to impact it. It has been fairly unchanged for years.”
This social entrepreneurial spirit has not gone unnoticed. Valor Academy recently received the honor of being named one of California’s Distinguished Schools. Opened in August 2009, the middle school began with a fifth-grade class and added a new class each year. Thus, this is the first year the school is operating with students in grades five through eight, and the first year it will graduate a class. Furthermore, Hamalian was the recipient of the BC Alumni Association’s GOLD Award in 2011, which honors a graduate who has demonstrated excellence in a profession, in a social cause, or to the University.
Always taking advantage of the opportunity to pass on knowledge, Hamalian offered advice to graduates. Hamalian credits the strong BC network with offering initial help when he first started crafting Valor Academy. He commented, “When I came out to LA, I started reaching out to people in the BC network, and people were incredibly responsive. Alumni feel a strong bond and are looking to help you out.”