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Natalya Wenson: “We teach children to love their roots”
In May 2020, the Association of Russian Schools in the United States held its first meeting. The association was created by the Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots in the United States, together with the Rossinka cultural and educational center for Russian-speaking families in the Silicon Valley. We talked about the new organization and its goals with the president of Rossinka, the member of the United Nations Corps and United Nations Development Cooperation Council, Natalia Wenson. In 2020, she entered the list of top-100 most influential women in Silicon Valley, according to the Silicon Valley Business Journal.
– The Association of Russian Schools in the United States began its work in 2020. What is the idea of the association? In your opinion, why is it needed to unite Russian schools of America today?
- The Association of Russian Schools in the USA is a non-profit association of Russian-language educational institutions, founded in 2019 with the assistance of the Coordinating Council of Organizations of Russian Compatriots of the United States.
The main goals and objectives of the Association of Russian Schools in the United States focus on the preservation and development of the Russian language in the families of compatriots, familiarizing residents of other countries with the richness of Russian culture, as well as spreading the word about cultural understanding.
We want the families of compatriots living abroad to have the way to teach children and adults the Russian language, history and culture regardless of the place of residence, the presence or absence of a developed Russian-speaking community, schools, teachers or financial situation.
- How many members does the association have today? What states do they represent?
– To date, the association includes 33 schools from the states of Alaska, Virginia, Georgia, District Columbia, Illinois, California, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Oregon, North Carolina, Texas.
– What are the association’s short-term plans?
- We plan to create a database of Russian-language educational institutions; organize continuing education courses, conferences, seminars and webinars for teachers and administrators of Russian schools; create and spread modern teaching materials and textbooks, methodological literature, as well as a virtual library to help teachers, students and parents. We are also going to hold an annual international competition in three areas: Russian, mathematics, and natural sciences.
We are convinced that, together, we can significantly help Russian-speaking families and communities through educational and cultural programs (including both long-term projects and separate events) to preserve cultural and linguistic identity.
Therefore, we invite you to join the association’s full-time bilingual schools; state, charter, private schools; Saturday and Sunday schools; additional education schools, as well as preschool institutions (kindergartens and school preparation groups).
– You head the Rossinka Cultural and Educational Center co-founded by the association. Tell us about your school.
– The Heritage School and the Rossinka unite more than 120 families. All classes are conducted exclusively in Russian.
The annual spring concert of the Rossinka school: children dance, sing, read poetry
Rossinka was created 11 years ago as a result of a project to preserve and develop the Russian language of preschool and school-age children of Silicon Valley. My husband Eric Wenson and I noticed that in San Francisco and in San Jose, as well as in other cities of the Silicon Valley and the Gulf, numerous Russian-language networks and home kindergartens worked successfully, children spoke and studied only in Russian there. Unfortunately, with the start of education in secondary schools (from 5 years old), the English language starts to prevail. The Russian vocabulary is rapidly decreasing, the accent emerges, children start to copy the English language patterns. In general, the motivation to use the language is sharply reduced, and in some cases the Russian language is completely abandoned.
Over the past 25 years, my husband devoted a lot of time to developing business projects in different countries aimed at developing and improving socially significant aspects of life, primarily in the field of education and childcare. He actively supported me in the desire to create a new type of educational space aimed at studying and maintaining a high level of the Russian language. Now he is a member of the board of directors of the Rossinka school.
Rossinka school students take part in the Kangaroo international mathematical competition
Our main task is to create a Russian-speaking community of children, parents and teachers. We want our pupils from two years of age and older to be able to speak, read and write in Russian fluently, as well as get acquainted with the literature, history, music and folklore of Russian-speaking countries, folk traditions and customs, start loving Slavic culture and carry this love through their lives, passing on the knowledge to children and grandchildren. We teach children not only to speak Russian beautifully and correctly, but also to love their roots and be proud of their historical heritage.
In addition to the Russian-speaking families of Silicon Valley, our target audience includes other families, which are interested in the Russian language and culture of the Slavic peoples.
– How do you maintain this interest?
- We are trying to introduce the English-speaking population of Silicon Valley to the beauty of Russian culture, its traditions, music and literary heritage. The Russian-speaking population can broaden their horizons and learn to respect and tolerate other cultures with our help.
The school provides an opportunity for children for whom Russian was the first and main language to continue their education at a high level. Regardless of the language proficiency level, the active and passive vocabulary of our students is expanding, because they can study music, dance, theater, nature, robotics, mathematics, chess and fencing in Russian.
Rossinka choir performs a song from the Children of the Earth musical
– You emphasized that Rossinka is a cultural and educational center for the families of Silicon Valley, where many wealthy Russian families live. And how much are Russian mothers and fathers themselves concerned about the preservation of the Russian language and the Russian cultural background among their children?
Rossinka dance group performs a waltz at the spring ball
Even 15 years ago, the main goal of immigrant families in Silicon Valley was to quickly assimilate in a new place: learn English, laws, local culture, often due to the complete breakdown of ties with the country of origin. Over the past eight years, this trend has changed dramatically - more and more families are striving to ensure that their children not only know how to speak Russian, but also read and write correctly, know the history, culture and customs of the Slavic countries.
– How do you get a child, who attend an American school, to have the desire to improve the native language?
- To preserve and improve the language, it is important not only to engage in a special program for bilingual children, but also to devote enough time to this task, to speak Russian very actively.
Time is not only the most valuable, but also the most difficult resource for all families, especially for teenagers who spend a lot of time in secondary schools, engage in sports and attend various clubs.
Rossinka developed the concept of the Russian-language “extended day program” to solve this problem. It involves many academic and creative classes and programs, transport services, lunch and help with homework. For families with working parents, the important fact is that by the end of the day the child is fed, homework is done, additional classes are held in the same building. The children continue to learn and improve their native language, communicate with peers, study history and culture, learn about holidays and traditions, read and discuss Russian-language literature: classics and contemporaries, play in the Russian children’s theater, learn folk and modern dance and much more.
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