My trip, the travels, the events, the people have all been coming too fast for me to keep up with. I’ve been meeting people, seeing programs, shooting photos and video for 12 hours a day. So please forgive me for the past-tense of the blogs from here on out.
I hope to revisit elements of my trip in a retrospective approach that, although removed from that here-and-now immediacy, may actually prove more interesting for the reflective time I get by looking back. But before I begin that retrospective approach, I offer this blog post that I started but did not get around to publishing.
March 20, 2015
I must take you back in time to St. Petersburg, back to last week, back to my first looks at the educational system in Russia.
From what I gather, Russian youth are primarily educated in state schools, just as American students are educated in the public school systems run by our individual states, under the recommendations and dictates of the federal government.
And like American schools, youth in Russia may choose to augment their education with “after-school” activities. But, in the U.S., many of those programs are directly funded and run by the public school system using public school facilities, such as after-school programs in sports, music, the arts, etc. And of course American private companies offer all sorts of enrichment programs for a fee.
In Russia, there are also many after-school enrichments programs — some that receive funding from the state and from local city governments. In St. Petersburg and in Petrozavodsk, that support may include the outright gift of a building, or access to it. But…these buildings are often old and run down, requiring a huge commitment in money for materials and an army of dedicated volunteers effort to make them habitable. I’m talking about the basics we in America take for granted — flooring, walls, bathrooms, wiring, lights, Internet connections, etc. In short, they need it all, and if they want it, they must do it all.
I’ve now met the directors of three such educational centers, and their armies of paid and unpaid educators who design activities, create materials, teach — and swing a hammer, paint, sweep and generally devote their lives to building programs from scratch.
Perhaps you remember a previous post when I talked about my glimpse at the Russian heart? I have now seen its depth.
Mikhail Epstein, a professor of math at St. Petersburg State University, welcomed me to the World of Math, Technology and Entrepreneurship when I landed in St. Petersburg on March 12. The educational center, which has already been retrofitted, was one of several locations around the city to host activities during High Tech Week, a five-day series of classes for any high-school aged youth who wanted to partake. The offerings ranged from non-fiction production to robotics and nanotechnology to cybernetics.
Students from several state schools converged on a modern school in St. Petersburg on March 13 for a document sleuthing competition. Each team selected an information packet containing personal letters, drawings, and photographs. Their jobs: discover the identity of the famous Russian scientist using only the documents included in the kit.
I also visited a night school for Russian speakers who want to learn English called “Don’t Speak” English School. Again, the teaching approach was active and experiential. Teacher Anastasia Lurchagina’s students ranged in age from 12 to 40, and she kept things moving with a variety of fast activities and lessons.
Across town, middle and high students populated a state-funded school and club called Rescuer that teaches mountain rescue skills and techniques to youth aged 12 and up. The facility includes a climbing gym. Last year they added video production to the operation, and now have a small stage, a green screen and various video production gear. The kids enthusiastically showed me videos they created, and great photos of a recent backpacking trip to practice rescue protocols in the wilderness. The place felt more like a home away from home for these kids, who call themselves “The Moss.” And like the lichen from which their name comes, they are completely connected to each other, to the Earth, to the program, to the center, and to their growth.
I can tell you they sure made it feel like home to me. Again I felt that immediate and genuine warmth, that sense of belonging, of community at Rescuer that I’ve experienced in nearly every stop on my fellowship.
I walked in a stranger. We talked about video, backpacking and climbing, families and babies, we drank tea and ate sandwiches, we laughed, and we overcame the language. I walked out a “Moss” devotee.
Next up, a look at the educational opportunities in Petrozavodsk.