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"We inspired to awaken Russianness."

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"We inspired to awaken Russianness."


Sergey Vinogradov

Photo credit: St. Alexander Nevsky Russian School / Facebook

The largest Russian school in Sydney celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Back in 1971, St. Alexander Nevsky Russian School was formed out of the parochial school of the same name. Over the years, this educational institution has brought up several generations of city residents in line with the Russian spirit.

For its anniversary, the school received the best gift ever. At the beginning of the year, 20 new Russian-speaking families came to it, so the school enjoyed pleasant efforts to expand the groups. Now about two hundred schoolchildren and preschoolers study here, including students studying Russian as a foreign language. This school accompanies children in their long and exciting journey from blocks with Cyrillic letters to a Russian-style leavers’ ball.

Galina Harrison, Director of Studies of†St. Alexander Nevsky Russian School, told the Russkiy Mir how today's students were different from schoolchildren of past years, what curriculums the school used nowadays, and how teachers demonstrated benefits of knowing the Russian language in their own lives and careers. “Many teachers of our school are its leavers, including Nikolai Maksimov, the principal,” she said. УI have been working at the Alexander Nevsky school for 16 years. I used to teach junior classes. In 2013 I became the Director of Studies."

Galina Harrison and Nikolai Maksimov. Photo courtesy of Galina Harrison

Russian ball

Does the school keep in touch with its leavers?

Ц Yes, many of them brought their children to our school; and there are those who even sent their grandchildren here. For example, one of our teachersТ children completed their education in the school, and now she teaches her grandchildren. For the 50th anniversary of the school, we collect photographs of different schoolchildren generations taken over the years.

Ц What are the areas of activities where your school leavers realize their potential most often?

Ц Some of them become teachers, many choose medicine and jurisprudence. One of our graduates, Andrei Byankin, became a doctor, worked abroad and received an order from the Queen in recognition of his services in medicine.

Ц What is the reason for such steady popularity of the school?

Ц Perhaps the reason is that we do not just teach Russian, our task is to awaken Russianness in children. We try to organize sightseeing tours, as well as trips to concerts and performances. For example, our students went to the exhibition opened by the Hermitage, as well as to Eugene Onegin, an opera, and to ballet. Nikolai Maksimov, our principal, holds the Russian Revival Film Festival, and every year children watch Russian films.

And, probably, the most important thing is our famous Debutant Ball, where schoolchildren come in tailcoats and fancy white dresses feeling themselves part of the Russian community. I have observed many times how the preparation for the ball and the ball itself unites the classmates. As a result, the schoolchildren keep their friendship for many years. This year the ball will be especially festive because the school is celebrating its 50th anniversary

Photo credit: St. Alexander Nevsky Russian School / Facebook

Russia, so close and familiar

Ц From your experience, at what age do students come to understand that studying the Russian language and culture is important for them and not for their parents?

Ц I think it happens in high school. Kids go to school because their parents told them to. In the middle grades, they have teenage interests, sport comes into their lives. It is a challenging age. In grades 9 - 10, they have already understood why they are here, they are good friends with their classmates, and there is a ball ahead. It is the time they begin to identify themselves as Russian. For example, when my children were growing, my Australian ex-husband was against them learning Russian and speaking it at home. Nevertheless, having finished our school, they feel themselves to be Russian. It is very important for me.

Nikolai Maximov and I were born in Australia, and it is vital for us to preserve Russian culture.

We take our school so personally because we know how challenging it is to preserve the language. Unlike people who came from Russia with a pure Russian language, we sought to speak Russian. And we want the next generations to have this opportunity.

Ц How do parents explain why they bring their children to a Russian school?

Ц They want their children to inherit the origins - the language, the culture. Another important reason is communication with relatives, and so that children feel comfortable when traveling to Russia.

Photo credit: St. Alexander Nevsky Russian School / Facebook

Ц According to children, is Russia a country familiar to them or something distant and unknown, exotic?

Ц Those who study in our school perceive Russia as a country that is close to them. They know Russia, many of them visit it and know that they are Russians. And when there is some news in Russian, they somehow listen, react. We try to encourage and maintain this feeling in them.

Ц†In your opinion, how have school students and Russian-speaking children in Australia changed over the years?

Ц Our school was founded by Russian-speaking parents who had come from China. It was very important for them to preserve the Russian language. Schools, clubs, churches were established. At home, they all spoke Russian only as they understood how vital it was to preserve the language. Now, many parents who come from Russia try to speak English as often as possible in order to assimilate into Australian society. And the children hear Russian speech much less than they used to.

Russian language helps in life

Ц Over the years, has the number of schoolchildren changed?

Ц It was approximately the same. However, at the beginning of the year, 20 new families came to us at once, this is very significant growth for us. Why do I say families? Some of them bring one child, while others bring two, three, or even four. Due to a large number of new students, we are planning to split the pre-school class into two. We have a junior kindergarten, a senior kindergarten, a pre-school class, grades 1 to 10; a class of Russian as a foreign language (RFL) has also been opened. Our school is one of the largest in Australia. Once it was the largest, but over the last 50 years, many Russian schools have been opened in Sydney and throughout the country.

Photo credit: St. Alexander Nevsky Russian School / Facebook

Ц Who study in the RFL class?

Ц Most of our students are of Russian origins. We opened the RFL class for children from mixed families, who little Russian is spoken to. It is difficult for them to study our main curriculum, which is of a high standard. Studying in an RFL class enables them to speak Russian, communicate with a Russian grandmother, and get the basics of grammar. Pupils of foreign origins are very rare in our school, but sometimes it happens. This year a Muslim girl came to the class because she herself wanted to learn Russian. She started studying online, and then came to school. Now she studies well.

Ц What curriculum is used in your school?

Ц The Russian school curriculum is very difficult for us, but the school orders Russian textbooks in Russian. In addition to the Russian language, the school teaches literature, history, geography. We compile textbooks on these subjects by ourselves and try to update them to comply with modern realities. For example, certain changes have been made in Russian literature - there are fewer 19th-century writers and more 20th century writers in the program. In addition to the listed subjects, the basics of Orthodox culture are also taught, and there is such a subject as translation. As an option, children attend classes of Russian dancing, drawing, singing, we have a drama club where performances are staged.

Photo courtesy of Galina Harrison

Ц Your students attend classes at weekends after a week at an Australian school. Do they feel frustrated?

Ц For us, the big problem is that we need to fit so much information into so few teaching hours. Pupils leave our school with fluent Russian and often decide to pass a final exam in Russian at their school, and then they continue to study it at the university. That is, classes in our school help them in their studies at an Australian school. Furthermore, we tell children that knowledge of the Russian language will be useful to them in life.

Ц How can knowledge of the Russian language help an Australian to succeed in life?

Ц Knowledge of another language is an advantage for both business and employment. For example, in addition to school, I have another occupation. It is something that does not exist in Russia - something between an ophthalmologist and an optician. I use my Russian language all the time; Russian-speaking patients come to me from all over Sydney. They can easily explain their concerns and I understand their problem better.

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