Academy of Georgian Heritage in Washington D.C.
28 November, 2013
When her seven-year-old daughter Lela quipped that she would rather ask her father a question because in her estimation Americans are smarter than Georgians, Tamara Kalandia considered her options : to punish her daughter or to explain to her why that statement was wrong. 
Tamara chose the latter and sat her daughter down to share with her the writings of Shota Rustaveli. Tamara spoke to Lela for a good hour about the ancient history of Georgia and why it is important
for her to know it.
At the end of the impromptu “class,” Lela asked why there wasn’t anyone who could teach this to all Georgian kids? So in a roundabout way, the Georgian parents and children in Washington D.C. now owe Academy of Georgian Heritage to one seven-year-old who dared to ask the question.
Georgian communities in the US have long been making do with volunteer schools run out of people’s homes. Before Tamara decided to start a school, a wonderful teacher, Nino Meladze, was the community teacher for many years, working by herself in a small space in a church. But the year when Tamara’s daughter asked if there was anyone who could teach her and her friends about Georgia, Meladze had stopped teaching for personal reasons.
Suddenly there was no one to whom Tamara and other Georgian and American parents could take their children to continue their education. Not wanting her family to grow up without a solid connection to Georgia, Tamara decided to take the matter into her own hands, and in ten days, with the help of her friends and other parents, was able to organize the first Academy of Georgian Heritage in Washington D.C., with volunteer teachers and twenty students, ages four to nine.
Tamara’s enthusiasm for the school was contagious, and the school soon garnered the interest of the Georgian embassy and Georgian Diaspora in Washington D.C. Tamara was also able to get help in the form of some wonderful schoolbooks from the Ministry of Education in Georgia.
I was able to visit the school in session one Sunday in October. The Academy occupies two rooms in the Twinbrook Elementary School. The parents occupied the hallway, drinking coffee and waiting for their children to finish school.  Each week two parents volunteer to work as hall monitors and help teachers, while others stay just to enjoy the company of their fellow parents from 9am to 1 pm.
One of classes I was able to observe was taught by an incredibly patient and professional teacher of Georgian Language and Literature, Londa Khaburzania, who received a degree in philology from Tbilisi State University.  During the class, Ms. Khaburzania was not only able to keep the attention of twelve young and very easily distracted children, but was also able to teach something new to an old correspondent such as myself.
Besides the innovative teaching of Ms. Khaburzania, the new and improved textbooks from the Ministry of Education deserve mention. The textbooks are up-to-date, full of pertinent information and attractive enough to capture the interest of children growing up in the 21st century.
But textbooks without competent teachers are just paper, and that is why Academy of Georgian Heritage excels at education - because their teachers make all the difference.
The second class I was able to sit in on was run by a Georgian music teacher, Meri Gugushvili, who received her degree from Tbilisi State Conservatory. When she started teaching Gugushvili was aware that some of her shyer students had very elementary Georgian language knowledge, and some had none, but music seemed to have conquered even the shyest of them.
I listened as children crowded around the piano and sang four verses of a Georgian song, of which only one verse was given as a homework assignment. It was very inspiring to watch little children take to Georgian music so well and with such enthusiasm. I only wish that such an important school was available to me when I was growing up far away from Georgia. Academy of Georgian Heritage is run by Kalandia, and the exceptional teachers are Eka English (Exploring Georgia), George Tkabladze (Art), Tea Okropiridze (Art), Shota Migineishvili (Math), Meri Gugushvili (Georgian music), and Londa Khaburzania (Georgian Language and Literature). Please visit their website at