Our school is a very unique school as it is autonomous. This means it is located in the city of Minchurinsk, but it is not under the jurisdiction of Minchurinsk like other schools located here are. It is under the direction of a larger city about 1 hour away called Tambov. It is both a boarding school and a day school for the academically gifted students from throughout the region. It has a gifted center, as well a primary school.
The Primary School is grades 1-4, while the Middle School is 5-9. The Secondary School is grades 10 & 11.
The classes are small here at the Lyceum. Our host teacher Yaroslava has 16 students in her 5th form, and she exclaimed "that is too many!" Students all stand when a teacher enters the classroom. They remain standing until the teacher tells them to sit. Many students also stand after being called upon to answer a question.
The school day begins at 8:00 am. Classes last 40 minutes. There is a 10 minute passing period for all students 5-11 forms. This seems to be enough time for them to get a snack, talk with friends or even finish a lesson with the teacher. Bells do not dismiss the students; the teacher does. It is rather nice as if you are still finishing a lesson, you are able to do so rather than the students always preparing to leave as they do in the United States--oftentimes 5 minutes early! After two lessons, there is a 20 minute 2nd breakfast break.
After the 2nd breakfast, the students will attend class until 1:00pm. At this time they will have their dinner. Next to the canteen (their cafeteria or commons) , there is a hand washing station. All students come in to wash before eating. No one brings their lunch. The lunch/dinner is made on site and includes a soap of some sort (we had borscht one day and cabbage soup on another). Students also receive a grain (rice or buckwheat) and a small bit of meat. After this, their day is finished, but many students opt for a 7th lesson of the day which is after lunch/dinner. Outside the canteen is a small snack machine and a coffee machine. It made fairly decent coffee for about 75 cents—25 P (rubles).
While at the primary school we toured a 3rd form class. As it typical for all classrooms, multiple awards were proudly displayed on the wall. These awards were for individual students who had achieved the award.
The school does not offer any extracurricular activities such as sports, clubs or student council. If the students are involved in anything such as music or dance they attend a separate school that specializes in that particular subject. We visited both a music school and a dance school while staying in Minchurinsk. The average amount of time spent at the music school is 6-7 hours a week. I did not ask the "principal" at the dance school, but I am thinking it would probably be more. Also, many students receive private tutoring after lessons, especially in English. After teaching at the Lyceum from 8:50 until 1:00, Yaroslava goes home and hold private lessons from 3:00 until 7:30 pm each day. She also gives private lessons on Sunday.
We asked many students how long they spend each night on homework. The most typical response was about 2 hours. Students also said they would love to participate in more co-curricular activities such as sports, but they just don’t have time. I did not ask any students, but I feel very confident in saying that they do not. At the Lyceum where we were, there was just too much academic pressure to succeed on the national exams. All students must take national exams at the end of the 9th form and at the end of the 11th form. They take anywhere from 4-6 subject exams. From what I can gather, these are pretty high stakes exams and cause the students much stress. Your results on the 11th form exams will determine your placement at a university. They are written exams, even the English exam. There is no spoken or listening component to it. These are compulsory, not like our ACT or SAT. If you score high enough on your national exam, university is very inexpensive for you, and you also would have your pick of schools.
The pressure is on the student, and typically does not reflect on the teacher. That is why so many students receive extra lessons. They must pass the exam. There are many differences in the teaching approaches as well as focus of content, but I think that might be best saved for the next blog. There is a lot to process from this experience, and as I just spent five hours on a train....my brain is not thinking deep and profound thoughts at the moment.
The photo below is of the 11th form. They are all getting ready to pass exams, and they have high hopes and aspirations, just as American teenagers do.