By ARIA FANI
A personal look at the diaspora’s first accredited Persian-language educational institution.
When the Iranian School of San Diego was founded in 1988, I was only two years old, living in Shiraz following the Iran-Iraq War. Having moved to America, my experience with ISSD began in 2005 when I audited several classes and led a few as a substitute. I started teaching regularly at the school the following year -- as I had no formal teaching background, a few eyebrows were raised. Receiving a steady stream of résumés from impressive applicants -- many of whom have taught in Iran -- Ali Sadr, ISSD’s principal, identifies passion as a fundamental element that drives teachers to constantly seek to improve, to take and give constructive criticism, and most importantly to ignite the same fire among their students: a passion for discovering Iranian culture through learning Persian. Passion has been inscribed into the school’s DNA.
ISSD is a place where nobody’s talents go unnoticed. I was recruited to write for Peyk, the bilingual publication of the Persian Cultural Center of San Diego, the school’s parent organization. Later, I served on the Center’s board of directors. I jokingly warn my Iranian friends, “No matter what you’re good at, if you go near ISSD, you will be recruited!” Our strong alumni base attests to this tradition. Kourosh Baradaran, for instance, works both as a teaching assistant and santour instructor while attending conversation classes designed for alumni who wish to continue practicing their Persian. Back when I was pursuing a degree at community college, I had no idea ISSD would determine my ultimate career as an educator. Having left San Diego to pursue their own collegiate adventures, several of my former students visited me recently. It was the sort of reunion that suggests the importance of the ISSD experience, which inspires a community built around a common love: Persian language and culture.
Registered as non-profit, non-political, and non-religious educational institution, ISSD adheres to adhere to no religious, nationalistic, or politically partisan curriculum. While autonomy has many advantages, it also presents challenges. Chief among them is the question, Who evaluates the school? ISSD has had to rely on its own community for self-correction and growth, encouraging and sponsoring its teachers’ participation in training workshops at San Diego State University, New York University, National University, and other institutions of higher learning. During monthly meetings, the school’s entire teaching corps meets to discuss assessment and teaching methods.
Rather than rely on the standard Persian-as-a-second-language textbooks employed in the United States, ISSD has strived to design a curriculum crafted for the school’s unique environment. In the process of developing the advanced-level curriculum, I traveled to Iran in January 2009 to meet with Dr. Shokufeh Shahidi, the program director at the Dehkhoda Institute and International Center for Persian Studies. In Italy that August, I met with Riccardo Zipoli, professor of Persian language and literature at Venice University. Their insights and advice were invaluable to the publication of Advanced Persian Textbook for Heritage Learners (Persian Cultural Center, 2009), which has been adopted by many Persian-language schools worldwide.
Founded by Shahri Estakhri (principal, 1988-92) and Mozayan Bagherzadeh, ISSD is now the only accredited Persian-language school outside of Iran, keeping their vision of serving the whole of the Iranian community alive. With its expanding scope, the institution, whose original venue was a church, can now hardly be accommodated by its current host, Mount Carmel High School. Offering classes on various language levels, Persian music (setar, santour, daf, etc.), theater, dance
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