Diverse work on getting children of various nationalities, including gypsy children, to go to school has long been going on at School 462 in Pushkin region. Today the third generation of gypsies living in Alexandrovskaya is studying at the school, It must be said that this is a fairly rare example both of the parents not being afraid to send their children to school and of the children feeling comfortable there. What is School 462’s secret?
Of course, it is primarily thanks to the efforts of the headmistress, Margarita Vasilevna Marshennikova, and her teaching staff. In present conditions it is particularly important to make the children feel that they are being protected and that the value of their culture and its role and importance within world culture is being understood. It is in this area that, with the support of the French Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development, work is being done with children from national minorities. The teachers are creating an atmosphere of happiness, peace and friendship at the school. Lessons in the gypsy language for have already been running for three years for children wishing to learn to read and write in it and to get to know works of literature in their mother tongue. I. S. Berdyshev, a consultant psychologist, always comes to help if parents or teachers have questions on child education or behaviour. He also devotes a lot of time and attention to the pupils, and any child can turn to him in cases of conflict at school or at home.
A gypsy song and dance workshop has operated at the school for several years. It was set up on the initiative of the pupils, and during its existence talented children have had the chance to develop their abilities in music, song and dance. Oksana Afanaseva is a superb singer and dancer, and takes part in all the workshop’s performances. The sisters Kristina and Zhanna Vysokaya are also very talented in music and choreography. Kristina Reshetnikova is not only involved in the ensemble but is also learning to play the accordion at music school. The brothers Volodya and Alyosha Luzhansky, Vanya Martynov and many others are enthusiastic participants in the workshop’s activities. A synthesiser and guitars, which anyone who wants can play, have been brought in for the children’s ensemble, and the role of accompanist in the workshop’s performances traditionally belongs to the brothers Roman and Vladimir Reshetnikov, who are no longer at the school, but continue to come to the ensemble’s rehearsals.
The school managed to get Svetlana Mikhailova, a soloist with the popular group Kabriolet, to work with the pupils. She worked with the children on their vocal skills and staged several dances. Under her, the number of participants in the ensemble reached twenty –news of the existence of a children’s ensemble and, in particular, of the fact that it was being directed by such a popular performer spread swiftly over the ‘gypsy grapevine’, and children came to Alexandrovskaya from other suburbs and even from Saint Petersburg itself. This year the well-known artiste and professional dancer Tamara Nikolayevna Cherepovskaya has started teaching at the workshop. She thinks work with children is vital for the preservation and development of national culture: ‘Every nation should know its culture and be proud of it. Many people think gypsy dancing is very simple. However, this simplicity is deceptive; it is very hard to recreate the genuine national character on stage. Gypsy dancing has absorbed various features: some elements of it come from Russian folk-dancing, some from Hungarian, and some from Spanish. In this our culture is unique and distinctive.
A choir, directed by the young musician Boris Alekseyev, has been organised from the primary school pupils. The children sing songs in different languages, and try out playing on different instruments. Needless to say, they enjoy coming to school. Mr Alekseyev also works with older children who wish to learn how to play the synthesiser.
The school’s staff hopes that with time more and more children will take part in the gypsy ensemble’s work. We are always glad to see interested and creative people here, and it does not matter where they come from –Pushkin, Gatchina or any other region. The school’s doors are always open to those who wish to develop their talents or learn more about their nation’s culture and traditions.