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#5 - JRL 7223
New York Daily News
June 15, 2003
Russian school keeps a proud culture alive

Listen to Your Motherland: Big Apple Academy instructor Natalia Yankovskaya puts young dancers in the Coney Island school's Show Club through their paces as they rehearse for a performance at the Russian school.

At The Big Apple Academy in Coney Island, a class is reading the latest "Harry Potter" book. But why are they calling Harry by the name Geri? "We're reading 'Harry Potter' in Russian," said Dennis Kats, 13, a student at the private Russian school.

Kats is among students whose Russian parents send them to the school to learn to speak, read and write in the native language of their families.

"Some kids don't want to speak Russian at home. That's the first thing that Russian parents say when they bring their kids here. They want to save their culture, their language," said Principal Vlad Gorny.

The curriculum incorporates methods of teaching from the old Russian school system, said Gorny, who has watched the school that began as a nursery school 10 years ago grow to one that now goes to seventh grade.

For instance, each student has a homework assignment journal, which has been a "part of the Russian system since about 100 years ago," said Gorny. It's where the students' schedules, homework assignments and grades are recorded by their teachers. "If there is a problem, the teachers can write comments in the journal, and the parents have to sign it," he said.

This way, "parents know of their children's grades and any behavioral problems. The teacher can be in contact directly with the parents. Instead of suspending a child for bad behavior, we write it down, and the parents could call the school," he said.

Gorny, who was born in Kiev, added, "When a child's grandma sees the journal, she's happy because she remembers when she was in school in Russia."

For students like James Kogan, 8, learning Russian for the sake of his grandparents is reason enough to attend the school. "When my grandpa comes over to my house and speaks Russian to me, he asks if I learned anything new in school. We also read action books in Russian," he said.

The average school day here is 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. From kindergarten to the third grade, the approximately 1,000 students, 60% of whom were born in Russia, have a mandatory class called Russian Language Development. They learn to speak in Russian, listen to Russian stories and watch Russian cartoons.

Strict ideas on education

After the third grade, the course intensifies to reading, writing and studying Russian literature.

The cost of the school is $500 a month for kindergarten through fifth grade, and $600 a month for the sixth and seventh grades.

Gorny said another reason why parents send their children to the school is because of its strict ideas concerning education. "Our children in kindergarten know how to read, do math and multiplication. We are not sitting and coloring letters. Immigrants who came to the U.S. work much harder than any other parents. They want to be compatible with the people who were born here, who are already successful," he said.

Although getting top grades is highly valued by Russian parents, "They mostly push me to read Russian books because they say I'm already forgetting," said Anthony Svyatskiy, 11, who came here from Moscow a year ago.

Anna Shargorodskaya, 10, whose family also is from Moscow, added, "My dad doesn't let me speak English at home because he thinks I'll forget Russian."

Forgetting is not an option. "Some students come here trying to become Americanized, trying to forget their roots. We help them maintain the connection between the generations," said Ilona Nabutovskaya, who teaches social studies at the school.

"In Russian families, you don't have a lot of kids. If you have one or two, you better raise them well," she said.

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