Russian Teacher Observes School Life at Mo Valley

By George Rosston
Progress Staff Writer

Students strolling through Moshannon Valley High School last Friday may have sensed some foreign presence in the commanding looking woman striding down the main corridor.

The woman, Mrs. Kathryn Rusin, is a Russian and a teacher of philosophy and history at a village school in the Ukraine. She has been visiting relatives in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including her aunt, who lives in Madera.

Mrs. Rusin came to Moshannon Valley High School at the invitation of Dr. Henry Beehrman, district superintendent. Dr. Beehrman visited Moscow and Leningrad with his wife two Christmases ago as part of a tour for American educators.

Dr. Beehrman was on hand to greet Mrs. Rusin and her cousin, Chris Ferlitch, with whom she is staying. Mrs. Ferlitch served as the interpreter.

During her visit Mrs. Rusin interviewed the high school principal and assistant principal, ate egg salad and French fries and listened to rock music at a cafeteria lunch and stopped in on an American history class. Ironically, the class was watching a film on the Berlin airlift of 1948-49, and the Soviet build-up of North Korea during the period preceding the Korean War.

Geo-political issues played no part, however, in Mrs. Rusin’s day at Moshannon Valley. The day started with a visit to an industrial arts shop, which Mrs. Rusin said was very like a Russian class of this type.

It continued with an impromptu interview in the school corridor with Dr. Steve Menatian, high school principal, and Tom Hopkins, assistant principal.

Mrs. Rusin asked a plethora of questions and displayed a knack for getting at the heart of the matter.

She wanted to know how someone became a principal. (By “degrees” was the reply).

- Whether administrators visited classrooms.

- Whether incompetent teachers were fired.

- Where they went if they were.

- What status teachers had.

- How students were taught who had difficulty learning.
- What percentage of students went on to college (30 per cent).

- Whether students had a choice of a college to go to.

- What disciplinary measures were used.

- Who administered corporal punishment. (In Russia the schools do not use this form of punishment, but parents do).

- What the worst student abuses were.

            A handsome woman with expressive eyes, her red hair tied in a bun, Mrs. Rusin questioned with gusto as the two startled principals and Dr. Beehrman offered replies:

            Mrs. Rusin wore an attractive yellow pants suit, which should make a colorful splash back home. According to Dr. Beehrman, Russian clothes tend to run in the blacks, dark browns and grays.

            In an interview earlier in the day Dr. Beehrman made a number of observations on Russian life. He said that children were “put up on a pedestal” in Russia and that this adulation related to the number of young people lost during the war.

            Dr. Beehrman said that drugs and alcohol were a problem in Russian schools just as they are here. Russian students still believe that in America the South is a place where “you keep your slaves and think of cottonfields”, Dr. Beehrman said.

            He remarked that Russian schooling was dogmatic and vocationally oriented, and concentrated on science, math and languages. “Practical and pragmatic” is how he summed it up.

            Dr. Beehrman was struck by the vastness of Russia. “It is so big and vast,” he said. “The cities spread out. The large blocks used in the buildings reflect this vastness.

            Dr. Beehrman also remarked that Russians were far behind in consumer goods and that cars and washing machines were considered luxuries.

            He said that students in Russia were given a battery of tests after completing their 10 years of schooling and that these tests determined the field they entered.

            Everyone is assigned some job, Dr. Beehrman said. The effort to keep all people employed created such scenes as laborers digging roads by hand while bulldozers stood by, he said.

            Dr. Beehrman enjoyed his visit to Russia and plans to return to make another tour.

            In a short interview Mrs. Rusin reiterated what Dr. Beehrman had said by noting that in Russia “if you don’t have a job, you are placed in a job.”

            Mrs. Rusin lives in a small village in the Ukraine with her husband, who is a furniture maker, and her two children. She walks five miles to work each day.

            Windows are larger in Russian schools and students wear uniforms, Mrs. Rusin said. She has been impressed with roads in the U.S. and in the markets.

            In his office Dr. Beehrman presented Mrs. Rusin with a Moshannon Valley pennant and a book entitled “Handbook of Research on Teaching.”

            At lunch Mrs. Rusin didn’t seem to mind the blare of the rock music. She said that the radio played during lunch at her own school, but that it broadcast mostly school news and some jazz.

            She said that Russians loved American entertainment and would stand in long lines to see any type of American film.

Friends of Mrs. Rusin have asked her to bring back an American pin-up calendar, but she hasn’t been able to find one yet. Past experience has shown that calendars, of any description, are allowed through Russian customs, but Playboy magazine is not.

            Mrs. Rusin is impressed with the good teeth Americans have and is amazed at the way butchers here cut meats into different cuts; in Russia it is simply sold in large slabs.

            Although unused to eating fried foods at home, Mrs. Rusin has eaten much of it here, with no ill effect. She also ate her first banana here, finding it rather bland.  

            After lunch Mrs. Rusin went over to tell the cooks how much she enjoyed the meal.

            As she walked down the corridor she observed that Russian boys are now wearing their hair longer and some even wear necklaces.

            School girls are still required to wear their hair in buns lest it fall in their faces while studying.