Educators from Kambarka, Russia, hope a week-long trip to their sister city of Tooele could be the beginning of something bigger, and far more beneficial to students of both cities.
The delegation spent most of this past week observing Tooele County classrooms, with a special emphasis on the school district’s dual language immersion program.
Kambarka officials hope to implement a similar program in their own schools, beginning with English.
“According to what we have seen, the results [of dual language immersion] are very impressive,” said art teacher Natalya Sutkina, with Natalia Kononenko translating.
In addition to Sutkina, the delegation consisted of two school administrators, Anastasiya Kokoulina and Olga Shylyakkova; physical education teacher and coach Vitaliy Glukhov, and Alexandra Kilina, a post-secondary instructor who teaches accounting.
Kononenko and Olga Kazakova accompanied the group as representatives of the Open World program that made the trip a possibility. Stansbury resident Katya Turner also served as a guide and representative of the Sister Cities organization.
All members of the delegation are enthusiastic about the possible introduction of dual language immersion in Kambarka, and equally excited by the prospect of beginning a Russian immersion classroom in Tooele.
“We’re very pleased to see that you’re bringing up the dual immersion program for Russian,” Kokoulina said through Kononenko’s translation.
Tooele has received a grant to begin planning a Russian immersion classroom, Turner said, but it is still unclear when or how Russian would be integrated into the county’s current language program.
It will be more difficult for Kambarka to get its own program off the ground, especially because the Russian city — which is considered comparable to Tooele in terms of demographics and economics — may have trouble recruiting teachers for the program, Turner said. She said Kambarka officials had hoped the city’s special relationship with Tooele might facilitate recruiting a local to teach English to Kambarka’s students.
The delegation also expressed hope that if both cities are successful in setting up complementary language immersion programs that they will be able to participate in more student exchange programs in the future.
Members of the delegation said they also admired Tooele’s education system for its wide-spread implementation of technology and for students’ freedom to direct their own course of study.
However, they said they felt Russian students benefited from having a centralized system with a uniform standard for education across the entire country, and Sutkina said they would like to invite a delegation of Tooele’s teachers to visit Kambarka and see what they might learn from the Russian system of education.
The Russian system focuses more on theory than on the practical application of education, and is not without its disadvantages, the delegates said, but they felt that overall both country’s schools saw comparable outcomes.
The delegates also enjoyed getting to know their Tooele host families, who they said had welcomed them warmly, as well as a special trip to Antelope Island and a performance of the Tabernacle Choir.
Tooele and Kambarka became Sister Cities in the early 2000s, when both cities were involved in the decommission of their respective nations’ chemical weapons. Since then both cities have sent delegates to exchange ideas and collaborate on various joint efforts.
The majority of the delegations have been facilitated and funded by Open World, which is dedicated to exposing young leaders from the former Soviet Union to American culture and the foundational ideals behind American democracy.
There was some concern that the Russian delegates may not receive their American visas on account of the current tensions between the two nations, but Kazakova said they were glad to see the trip go forward as planned.
“We’re very glad that even in this political situation, we still have an opportunity to visit so people have an opportunity to communicate,” Kazakova said. “It’s very important to keeping peace.”