Many Russian immigrants living in San Diego find that their children are losing the ability to speak Russian fluently, along with their history and culture, and it is very difficult for them to communicate with their parents on complex topics. “If parents don’t intentionally teach their child to speak Russian, they grow up treating the language as foreign. They find it hard to relay their thoughts and even harder to relay their feelings. The parents are then forced to either start speaking English themselves or enforce ‘only Russian’ rules at the house which alienates the child,” says Marianna Gorelova, the principal of SDRS.
Elena Yulaeva and Marianna Gorelova decided to create a school to help children from Russian immigrant families maintain their language and culture. Elena Yulaeva provided space for the classes and contacted parents and teachers. In 1998 they created a “club” with a few Russian scientists from UC San Diego and their children. Every Sunday the parents brought their children together and taught classes in Russian on topics such as Russian history, literature and linguistics.
We soon found there was a large demand for this type of education in San Diego. However, many children weren’t able to participate in class and do their homework because they struggled with simple reading and writing in Russian. So, we hired professional language teachers to teach the comprehension skills necessary to take subject classes. We also invited specialists from many career fields to talk about what they do (among other professions, the school has had visits from cinematographers, nuclear physicists, and actors) and organized field trips.
Once we made the school more accessible for students by teaching basic skills and introduced more subjects our program exploded with popularity. We soon had to separate the younger and older children and split classes in two, then three and finally four age groups. Currently, we teach classes for all ages; from five and six year-olds to late adolescents close to finishing high school.
Today the school is bigger than ever. Next year, we are looking forward to the new “Russian as a Foreign Language” course. This class, created for people with zero proficiency, is taught by a foreign language teacher with more than six years of experience. We also hope to launch other classes for beginner speakers including Computer Programming, Art History and Business Management.