(Note: I've got access to the internet once more after a week of continued computer problems. I hope that they're now definitively resolved and I'll be posting regularly again).
This Saturday there was an all-day outdoors event for the elementary school. Everyone met up at a train station off of Rublyovskoe-Uspyenskoe Shosse, the road I wrote about last June when we visited friends at the summer dacha resort they were renting. In "New York" terms, that road would be the equivalent of the Long Island Expressway--leading all Manhattanites to their exclusive Hamptons residences--if only the L.I.E. were a rural two-lane road, and it also lead to the cultural equivalent of Greenwich and tony Westchester towns--with luscious forests all around. We then hiked up about 3/4 of a mile into the woods.
The day was absolutely wonderful. The moms in Katya's homeroom had already met and we'd divided amongst ourselves everything we'd need for a nice cookout. I brought all of the paper goods and other moms brought all the food for sandwiches, fresh veggies & fruit, sausages to roast, desserts and beverages. The other parents are really nice and the kids had a great time together. Everyone had known that I'd be bringing Natalia and she was made to feel very welcome. (Siblings were invited, but Natalia was the only little sister in Katya's class to come--probably because Russian families tend to space their kids by at least four to five years; the toddler and baby siblings in the class were simply too young to come.) The mom who brought orange t-shirts gave one to Natalia, too, and the kids included her in all the activities. She LOVED it and now can't wait to go to school there, too.
There were twenty stations set up throughout the woods and each homeroom was given a map with their locations. The kids had to read the map to find where each station was and they had an hour and a half to accomplish all the tasks. The children were given points based on their ability to work as a group and their success in completing challenge. Among the tasks were: pitching a tent (which Katya's group did better than any other group--they even beat the third graders!); locating "north"--which they did based on moss growth on trees and using a compass; identifying wildlife; teamwork tasks such as balancing pencils fingertip-to-fingertip with a partner and in a large circle; guiding a blindfolded partner to a tree and then having the partner identify which tree it had been based on touch; guiding a classmate through a "minefield" by giving good directions--and with their backs to the mine--they only got to see it once before looking away; packing up food for storage in the wilderness; etc.
Each station was staffed by high school students and alumni who did a great job working with the children. I was very impressed by this aspect of the day; the fact that the students gave up their Saturday to do this says a lot about how they feel about their school--and even moreso for the alumni. The school in Connecticut that I attended through ninth grade (it ended in ninth grade) is the kind of place where you would find such a sense of pride and community; I had been keenly hoping to find a school like this for our girls here. After Saturday, I think we did. It was obvious that all the teachers were having as much fun as the kids and that they see being a teacher there is much, much more than simply putting in their hours during the traditional work day. Katya's teachers expertly encouraged the children to work as a team without doing any of the actual tasks themselves.
I also had the chance to talk extensively with the school's director. His parents founded the school in the '90s after living in America--they wanted to create an intellectually exciting school where children were loved and encouraged to develop not only as students, but also as well-adjusted and happy individuals. I'm so impressed thus far that I may teach there full-time next year; we'll see :-) It would be great to work where the kids go to school; I loved the "second family" atmosphere of the schools I attended and taught at in the USA.
And yet... this IS NOT the USA! While chatting, the director shared with me how last spring the school had celebrated the anniversary of the school's founding by clearing this area of forest--and that a dead body had been discovered as they collected litter. To his surprise, this Friday, as they prepared for the elementary school's wilderness day, they saw that the body still hadn't been removed! Luckily that task was accomplished before all the children arrived the next day...
So... as much as the day reminded me of the "Fall Family Clean-Up" (i.e. raking leaves) at my old school in Connecticut, there was that special "Moscow touch"...