July 2, 2008

The Russian Education System, part 1

Day 2
24 June 2008

My day started with a real family moment: Yaroslav, the 14 year old son in my family, came to the breakfast table grumbling about having to eat his kasha. He took forever to tie his shoes and complained about getting ready to leave. Ah, a normal day - hooray!

It was a long day - we had a lecture on the Russian education system and excursions to three places: School #3 - an award-winning gymnasium; the local Teacher Training Institute; and I went to a private day-care center (most of the group went to a Youth Health Center).

The visit to school #3 was orchestrated, but enjoyable nonetheless. We were greeted by a young girl in a traditional Russian dress with the most elaborately decorated loaf of bread I've ever seen and a tiny bowl of salt. I've never actually experienced this Russian tradition of welcoming people with bread and salt and was delighted to break off a piece of the bread and dip it in salt and then taste the warm welcome of our hosts. We saw the library and the cafeteria before settling into the music classroom, where two of the students performed for us. A young lady sang the Pushkin poem "Ya Vas lyubil" to accompaniment that she herself played, and a little boy played a tune on the clarinet with his mother accompanying him on piano. We saw some of the older students perform a skit and presented the teachers with a few things we had brought for the school. We also saw the Director's office and watched a DVD prepared by some of the students of English on Vladimir. For me, one of the most amazing things was to walk through the halls where the students' art was displayed. We saw paintings and a lot of needle-work (quilts, handbags, pillows), many incorporating folk themes, that were absolutely stunning.

The school building was, from the outside, quite shabby, but it was immaculate inside and the dedication of the teachers to their student, the pride and affection for the pupils was palpable.

The Teacher Training Institute is devoted to professional development for the teachers in the region. Several teachers did a show-and-tell of their students' (and their own) work, but there was also a panel discussion and an interactive playing of games that the teachers taught us. One of the young teachers had just finished a dissertation on educational games and the importance for children to learn through playing.

The teachers made a presentation of a book and a gorgeous crystal owl (the symbol of wisdom and knowledge) to the group.

My last stop was a private daycare center - the owner was a woman of never-ending enthusiasm and energy and this was a VERY fun experience. The goal of the center is for children and parents to learn together and they teach and care for kids from 18 months to 14 years. There are programs for English language instruction, reading, dance, other physical activities, and even exam preparation. Our small group was fixated on the methods for teaching the small children how to read - we were shown some really remarkable charts and visual aids - loved the phonics blocks - and heard some catchy tunes to help children learn the alphabet and phonics. We watched part of a dance class (2-3 year olds) and then caught a bus back to the American Home.

Ira, Lena and Ksenia - the 7 year old daughter in my family - took me on a private walking tour of the city. The churches were all closed, but we saw the outside of the Dimitri Cathedral and the Assumption Cathedral and walked through the park to an overlook where you could see the Klyazma River and the miles of forests on the other side. The view was really stunning and it gave me a better perspective of how the city is laid out. After a brief jaunt to the playground for Ksenia, we returned home for supper and two email messages from my family.

Ksenia and I have really bonded and so we watched the video from her preschool/kindergarten graduation. I fell asleep with images of twirling, dancing, singing children in my head...


Sasha said...

It's so wonderful to read that you're having a great time! :) Yay!
Keep writing. I'm following closely.

CEERES said...

Wow! They really do keep you busy- and that was just day two. I'm sure the rest of the days have been as packed. Look forward to more stories!