A school with one foot in the old country

Most of the Michigan charter schools you're reading about in Bridge this week are relative newcomers to the field, with all but one founded in or after the mid-1990s, when charters, or public school academies, were established by the state legislature.

The exception is the AGBU Alex & Marie Manoogian School in Southfield, which was founded in 1969 as a private school rooted in the Armenian culture of its namesake benefactors. The Manoogian name is well-known in Metro Detroit as patrons of a wide variety of causes. The couple is probably best known for donating their home in Detroit to be the mayoral residence, although it's Alex Manoogian's long-time presidency of the Armenian General Benevolent Union, the AGBU of the school's name, that resonates in Southfield today.

Principal Dyana Kezelian said the school applied for charter status in 1995, which officially made it a public school. Students commute from throughout southeast Michigan to immerse themselves in Armenian culture and language studies, although half the student body has no ethnic roots in the Eurasian country landlocked in the Caucasus. A look at photos on the school's website show a fair number of African-American children, in fact.

Which makes me wonder if someday the U.S. will send an African-American ambassador to Yerevan, one who impresses the diplomatic corps with his or her excellent command of the language and ease with its unique culture.

"Where did you learn to speak so fluently?" the ambassador will be asked.

"Oh, you know: Detroit."

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