Hrag Hamalian '07 is the founder and head of school at Valor Academy, a 5th through 8th grade charter school serving the diverse San Fernando Valley communities of North Hollywood, Arleta and Panorama City. As a corps member in the LMU/Teach For America Partnership program, Hrag taught ninth grade biology at Locke High School in Watts. He immediately saw the disparity in education in this school compared with the New Jersey public schools he attended “The Locke experience motivated me to want to make a change for the better through education,” Hrag said.
As a first-time teacher, Hrag knew he would need support in making the transition into the classroom. He chose LMU to help him make that transition after speaking with former corps members about the partnership program. “I felt that LMU was the right fit because of their close collaboration with TFA and their knowledge of teaching in an urban setting,” Hrag remarked.
Going through the program, Hrag found the support of the supervisors to be an invaluable resource. “The one-on-one interaction and direct feedback allowed me to make immediate, positive changes in my classroom. This level of support, coupled with the tools and resources I learned in the graduate courses at LMU, really improved my teaching and my students’ learning,” said Hrag. “SOE’s focus on teaching theory and how to apply it in a practical setting meant that I was able to take what I was learning in the classroom and immediately apply it to my work at Locke.”
While at Locke, Hrag worked with other like-minded teachers to establish a small school within the school, called the School of Math and Science. The new school required parent accountability, provided consistency among the teaching staff and created a structure for the students to succeed. The impact of the School of Math and Science was evident almost immediately – student achievement and parent involvement both increased. Speaking about this experience, Hrag says, “I realized that change in education is possible and that school leadership was the best path to make a difference.”
After earning a California teaching credential and M.A. degree in secondary education through the LMU/TFA Partnership program, Hrag won a fellowship with Building Excellent Schools, a program that prepares educators to design, found and lead urban charter schools. During the two-year fellowship, Hrag designed the curriculum, recruited a Board of Trustees, found a location, sought and received the necessary approvals for opening the school and, finally, hired staff.
Hrag is extremely proud of the school culture he and his team have created at Valor Academy, a culture of success for each student. “Students at Valor possess a sense of accomplishment and an air of professionalism. They are empowered to see college as a feasible option,” says Hrag. One way Valor promotes a college going culture is their homeroom program, where each room is named after a local university, including LMU. During the students’ first year, as fifth graders, they are considered “freshman” at their homeroom university. Through this program students research the university, learning the history and cheers of the school. The students also take a field trip to the university and engage alumni from these schools to expose students to the opportunities that are available to college graduates.
It’s not accidental that community leaders, neighborhood watch groups and the Los Angeles Police Department have noted the effective change that the school is making on the local community. “LMU’s focus on social justice helped open my eyes to the inequities in education and their effects on the community,” Hrag said. “LMU really helped me see that change is possible through leadership, dedication and the integration of theory and practice.”