Hrag Hamalian, a young Teach for America (TFA) recruit arrives in Los Angeles in the summer institute 2007, just weeks after graduating from Boston College. At the same time, journalist Donna Foote followed Hrag and several other TFA teachers placed at Locke High School in south Los Angeles during their first year of teaching.
Four years later, Hamalian now leads Valor Academy, a charter middle school he founded in the San Fernando Valley to prepare low-income students for college, with the ultimate goal of creating a successful model for other public middle schools. The school opened in 2009 with 120 fifth graders, adding a grade each year.
Hamalian, the son of immigrant parents, was educated in the public school system and admits that education was always a value in his family. He believes he’s always had one foot in education and a passion for it, thought I didn’t necessarily realize it.
TFA seemed like a good avenue to pursue after college because it was focused on the demographic Hamalian wanted to work with - low-income students. He also saw it was a career path because of the additional opportunities available.
Many teachers who go into an environment like Locke High School become disillusioned with the organization, but never with the kids. Hamalian however saw the people he worked with, both the individuals that were at Locke for 20 years and those who hadn’t been there as long, as individuals who wanted to see change and create a system in which kids could be successful.
Hamalian felt so much satisfaction with what he could do with the students and their families that he decided to start Valor Academy. The program’s success was really grounded in the ownership the families and students felt. He implemented a college-going culture and prepared students with the skills and character to achieve a college education.
He feels strongly that everyone knows that public education is the most important issue of our times. People need to keep coming up with new approaches and schools must continue to encourage high-functioning people to participate in education. Most importantly, Hamalian believes that collaboration is the key to success.