Teacher Talk

Carol Hakobian, Serrania Charter for Enriched Studies
Woodland Hills teacher started as an active parent

Carol Hakobian, a fifth-grade teacher at Serrania Charter for Enriched Studies in Woodland Hills: "I became a teacher because my kids entered school and I wanted to do something."

Carol Hakobian, a fifth-grade teacher at Serrania Charter for Enriched Studies in Woodland Hills, became an educator because she was an active parent.

“I became a teacher because my kids entered school and I wanted to do something,” said Hakobian who was active in the PTA and volunteered in the classroom.

“Over a couple of years, I started taking on groups of students to help them and the principal actually said, ‘Why don’t you go to school to get your degree?’”

It took a while for Hakobian to earn her degree. She had a family at home and school was a full-time job. But she was grateful for the encouragement of two principals by the time she was done.

She has now been teaching for 17 years. She’s a National Board Certified Teacher, and also holds a certificate in Differentiated Teaching.  And all those years have been spent at Serrania, a charter school affiliated with Los Angeles Unified School District.

Teaching at a charter school

“Serrania is different now that it’s become a charter,” she said. “We have more freedom to bring extra programs we didn’t have before. Today, we have an art teacher, a computer specialist who teaches classes, a science lab teacher and a reading intervention teacher. Those are things we couldn’t do before because we didn’t have the funds to hire those people.”

According to Hakobian, Serrania becoming a charter school made school more fun for kids, and brought staff together to make decisions.

“You ended up knowing and respecting people you never talked to before,” Hakobian said. “It may not look different from the outside, but when you talk to parents, it’s different on the inside. We have a ton of parental involvement. They even get involved in the governance of our school.”

When she first started as a teacher, if someone asked her what her favorite subject was, she would’ve said language arts — teaching reading and writing and analyzing stories.

“Then I got really into science. I was science lead for a while. Then I discovered history is stories and I really enjoyed that,” Hakobian said.

Teachers who made a difference

Although she moved around a lot when she was a child, she can point to a couple of teachers who made a lasting impression.

“One was my sixth grade teacher. I thought I was not good at all at math, and she encouraged me and I learned that I’m pretty good at it.”

In high school, she had a theater arts teacher who made a difference. “I guess you would say she encouraged independence in me and gave me responsibilities I hadn’t had before, in organizing and putting things together and helping a production come together.”

Hakobian has made a difference in the lives of her students, too.

“I’m very proud that several of my ex-students who have gone into college and the big world keep in contact with me and tell me what they’re doing. That makes me feel really good — that kids come back and tell me how they’re doing.”

Love of gardening spills over

One thing people might not know about Hakobian is that she’s an avid gardener. She renovated her backyard with hardscaping and landscaping by herself. When her family moved into their house 20 years ago, the landscaping was barren.

“I had two little kids and I wanted a yard and flowers and things like that. That’s where it started to germinate.”

That love of gardening has spilled into the classroom. When drought became a big issue in California, she wanted to teach young people what it was all about.

“They could say we don’t have water, but they didn’t understand why or what to do about it.”

Hakobian received a Voya grant to teach students how to grow drought resistant plants and learn how they can save water.

Her students did the research and she ordered supplies to grow a small garden just outside the classroom. The students got to choose which plants would grow and survive in scorching summers.

Students also analyzed how the school is using water and how to save it. They also made TED Talk-like videos to show to other students.

“It involves almost the entire curriculum,” Hakobian said. “Social studies with the drought. Science with how plants grow. Math is involved because they have to measure and know how much goes in and actually put the planters together. They’re using language arts the entire time because they’re reading, researching and writing. Hopefully I can instill some of my fun with plants in my students as well.”

Proud of her kids

Hakobian, married for 37 years, is proud of her children: a 33-year-old son who is an astrophysicist and a 23-year-old son who is a mechanical engineer and a second lieutenant in the Air Force, where he’s training to be a pilot.

Did teaching rub off on her sons? “I don’t know. My husband was a teacher, their grandmother was a teacher, I’m a teacher. Some of it must have rubbed off on them.”

What’s next?

Her husband retired four years ago and she’s looking to retire next year. She’s excited and a little scared.  “I keep telling my husband I need to find something to do.”

Retirement might include traveling, but also keeping her hand in education.

“I’ve always mentored teachers. I am involved in governance of my school and developing school plans. I’m not sure where my future lies — somewhere in education. I don’t think I could just stay home.”

Teacher Talk is a series of profiles on California teachers and other educators. To be considered for a future profile, please email communications@calstrs.com, with Teacher Talk in the subject line.

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