Hamidatun Karapetian, known professionally as Marjam, was teaching in the Los Angeles public school system — and loving it — when her graphic designer husband was offered a fantastic job in Silicon Valley. For the first time in years, the family could live on one salary. They were thrilled. Hamidatun resigned from her teaching job, and the family packed up and moved north. Everything was perfect . . . until the dot com crash in 2002. There they were, in their lovely, expensive new digs, with Hamidatun still paying off student loans — and no job!
Fortunately, Hamidatun had a Multi-Subject California teaching credential, an M.A. in Bicultural Development and a B.A. in English and Anthropology. This enabled her to teach at many development levels, including the Gifted, with a variety of culturally diverse schools. In Los Angeles, she had taught students of all backgrounds — Hispanic as well as Armenian, Russian, Asian, Middle Eastern, East Asian, and Pacific Islanders. So she went right out to the local schools and got hired. But . . . as the Silicon Valley economy continued to struggle, the schools began to let their teachers go. In most USA school districts, the most recent hires are the first to be let go. Hamidatun was the most recent hire, and so, she was let go.
What to do? What to do? She got an idea. When she had taught English for Speakers of Other Language (ESOL) classes in East Los Angeles, she had become acutely aware of how difficult it is for non-English speaking students not only to understand the language, but also to understand the jargon that is part and parcel of every class in school. Every subject, every textbook, every standardized test, uses language in their directions and assignments that you would hear only in a classroom setting. To help these students, Hamidatun had made little lists of those words so they would better understand class instructions and assignments Like little dictionaries. The stundents were very grateful as they did indeed help. Maybe they could use lists like that in Silicon Vallery. Hamidatun decided to put together some lists for some of the core subjects, duplicate them at a local Kinko's (a chain of photocopy shops in US) and give them to some of the teachers in that school in Silicon Valley. Maybe that would make them want to use her as a teacher, after all.
But her graphic designer husband, Aswan, had a better idea. "Don't show up with a bunch of photocopies. Let me design them first, and then you can take them to the school. They'll look more professional." He was right, and she was right. WizdomInc was born.
The program enjoyed immediate success! WizdomInc provided Englisih language learners equal access to the curriculm with their Bilingual Content Dictionaries and companion Bilingual Content Dictionaries. Each dictionary contains key terms, definitions, and phrases that teachers use in core subjects: two levels of Math, two levels of Science, Language Arts, and three levels of Social Studies. Students using the dictionaries raised their test scores by 40%. National Public Radio broadcast the story to the nation. Today, Wizdominc provides their dictionaries to schools in more than 18 states in the USA.
In the summer of 2010, WizdomInc relocated to Los Angeles, California. It also expanded its programs to the workplace with the creation of Occupational Dictionaries for adult employees in a variety of industries and trades. "Several years ago," Hamidatun explains, "I had the opportunity to teach English to a diverse community of adult employees at a factory that manufactured filtration products. I worked there with management to develop a vocabulary list for the employees and then I translated it. The management immediately found that communication with employees improved, that employees had more confidence, and that they were motivated to study and learn English so that they could communicate with management. Employees also become able to communicate more easily with the community at large. Soon after, I had the opportunity to work in the same capacity at a Hilton Hotel: I developed a vocabulary list for the hospitality industry, created a dictionary out of it, and watched employees become better able to communicate confidently with management and guests." And so it grew.
What Hamidatun totally understands, is that if we are to express ourselves in the world, it's not enough to know what our talents and abilities are. We also need the right tools to make that self expression possible. Otherwise we are lost. She also understands that it all starts with oneself. "Educators who make developing their own inner selves a priority are the ones who are best at helping others develop their talents and gifts." — LT