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MINI-AMERICAN SUMMER SCHOOL IN KOLTSOVO: REACHING TO CULTURES. Interview with the Organizers of Summer Language Camp for Children

Мини-американская школа в кольцово

В 2015 году судьба свела меня с организаторами проекта Мини-американская летняя школа (“Mini American Summer School”) – несменными лидерами с американской и русской стороны, Кевином Маккуэйдом и Марианной Малиновской. Мне удалось побеседовать с ними в кафе в течение 20 минут и расспросить у них о всех подробностях, связанных с созданием, развитием и миссией летнего языкового лагеря.

О том, что из этого вышло, слушайте и читайте ниже на английском языке.

Условные обозначения:

GB= Galina Bubyakina

MM= Marianna Malinovskaya

KM= Kevin McQuade

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GB: Hello, everybody. Here is Galina Bubyakina speaking. And here I have very interesting and unordinary people with me. They are carrying out a very interesting project which is called Koltsovo Mini American Summer School, which is taking place here in Koltsovo, Novosibirsk region, Siberia. And the main idea is combining day camp and learning more about American culture, if understand right. But let’s ask the organizers about this project. My first question is to Marianna Malinovskaya, the founder of the project. They have being doing this project for more than 10 years already. So, I’m very interested to know how it all started and when.

How it all Started

MM: Actually it started twelve years ago and it was like a good fortune, because we met a very interesting person, James Edmiston. And we still remember him every year because he helped us to bring our first American team here. And later it worked as we called it “Sarafannoe radio”, or a word of a mouth. So people were so happy after participating in the first year project. They came again, or they talked to other people and invited other participants. And wider, and wider. So, now we have participants from about 17 to 20 different states: 22 different states and 4 countries. In previous years we had participants from England, Australia, India, Argentina.

GB: And today? This year?

MM: And this year we have only Americans, but new states again. Every year new and new states are added. We are very happy because we have a chance to see the world wide English with all kind of accents. And our children are exposed to different types of culture. And as for American teams, they are very open, they are ready to participate, to share their culture. The moto of our project is “Reaching to cultures” and to learn when people learn from people not through governmental project or like official things. I think it’s much warmer. We have a lot of fun when we are together, so everyone enjoys it.

GB:  Thank you very much. And now I’d like to ask Kevin McQuade. How did it all start for you and what mission do you think is the most important for the project?

mini american summer school

Mission of the Project

KM: As Marianna said it started from Jim Edmiston, a Franciscan*, who was in this area. He was my principal at the high school I taught in Cleveland for a number of years. I left there to teach in public schools in Ohio. But I still have friends there and they invited me in 2005 to be a part of the project. And I’ve been coming ever since.

GB: This was also my first year to join this school.

KM: This is my eleventh season in American summer school and I enjoy coming back every year and introducing new teachers, We have, I think, over 70  different teachers from the United States come to Koltsovo, and teach at the Mini American Summer School, representing 22 different states. And as Marianna said, we had 4 different countries represented, too, in the project. But I think, the initial idea for the project from father Jim and Marianna was to introduce American culture and American accents to students, so that they train their year and listen, because they receive English in schools. But since their English teachers are not native speakers, sometimes they don’t progress as much, and this school is a chance to train their year in English with native speakers. Since I’ve been coming to Kolstovo for 11 years, Russian has slowed down for me, too. I can understand more and more every year, because the language…. I listen to Mariana, I listen to our teacher’s assistants speak and I recognize more and more vocabulary.  It’s same with the students. From beginning… On the Monday we begin the project to the second Friday of the project the students will really progress in their English skills. And Marianna has talked to the teachers in the fall, and they said their students have really made big strikes in their English…

MM: They are motivated.

KM: Because of the English speaking they receive through our program

GB: The language becomes alive finally, not from the books.

MM: And what I’m personally happy about is that a lot of Americans start to learn Russian.

KM: Yeah. We learn it from the kids. We make a crossover. When we say English words, we ask them: “What is this in Russian?” We are learning vocabulary with the students.

GB: Can you tell us please a little bit about structure of the lessons, or what do you have, lessons or games, classes?

 Mini American Summer School Kevin McQuade


*Franciscan, a term for a professor of Franciscan High School, Cleveland, Ohio

About the Lessons and the Teachers

KM:  Well, we have 4 primary groups and we have 8 groups, grades 5 through 11. And we tried to organize the classes, so that every teacher’s doing something different. And we want it to be fun and we want to be interactive. We don’t want the kids to be sitting and reading books or doing text books. We want them to be using and speaking their English. So, as long as, you know… When I talk to the teachers about coming to our program… I start organizing the team in the fall – October-November. I tell them…(Is there a curriculum?) No, there is no curriculum. And we don’t want a curriculum and we want and doing…interacting with you and doing fun activities using their English. So, we have 8 different subjects this year with the students. We have an art teacher this year doing some art lessons with the students, we have one teacher doing some presentations comparing the Russian culture and American culture. We have another teacher doing something with music. I’m doing some things with video and discussions about different topics. Joe McCarty is doing things with cooking when the kids are creating a cook book in English in their classes. We try to do 8 different things every year, and if I see that somebody is doing something that they did last year, I say: «Why don’t you try and do something different this year?» So, we try to do 8 different things with the students. Same with the 4 primary students. They’re all doing 4 different things with the students. Again, the idea is to get to listening to English and using their English. So, fun, activities, learning syntax.

Mini American Summer School having fun activities

GB: Very exciting!

MM: But as soon as for the most of the students, it’s their first contact with native speakers. So, they realize that they are not only their parents and English teachers who want them to work hard but it’s real goal – communication  with real people, and it motivates them greatly. So, in September most of them started working really hard in their regular classes just because they realize that it’s life and you have real chance to speak and that other people just understand you if you know a little, and If you don’t know, they won’t.

GB: So, how many people do you have to come back every year?

KM: Since I’ve been doing this…. Now we’re receiving three-year visas, so it motivates the people to come back the following year or a year after that, because they already paid for their visa. That type of things. But usually… this year we have 4 people that have been here before and they rest are all new. But with most of the people that are new, this is what they do during the summer: one of our teachers from North Carolina, she taught in Laos last year, another teacher taught in China last year doing similar type of activities, similar type of programs. So, they like to do this type of things during the summer, you know, it’s travel teaching, and you just get a better feel for the culture by doing it with this type of programs.

GB: And what about students? Do they come back every year?

MM: Yep. A lot. Actually, we have some students in the program who are a kind of 5-6 even 10 years in the program. It’s a long way for them. So this year most of them will graduate from school and they still… I do hope, they won’t leave us. Because the next year they’ll become the Bee people and the Bee people are helpers, like Russian helpers for American teachers. So they will just grow bigger and still stay with us.

 Mini American Summer School Bee people next year

How is it Organized

GB: Interesting. And an organizing question. Is it all very hard to organize?

MM: (Laughing) Please, don’t send me again.

KM: As far as getting the American team organized to come here, I have the things on my calendar, you know: applications do on this day, we start our visa applications on this day, I send them information about what to pack on this day, that type of things. Once they decide to come, it’s pretty much… I have to update the forms that I have on my computer and send them to them and we work through them. Marianna is different in terms of that…

MM: I don’t like to plan so much. But I have Kevin who plans everything for me.

KM: I’m only bringing about 12 people every year, she is getting the students organized, getting the Bee people organized. I think we have between students and our teaching assistants close to 140 participants this year.

GB: It’s very interesting to know how you advertise all this?

MM: We actually don’t advertise much because, you know, a lot of former participants… “You know, I can’t participate this year, but I will send my collegues from my school or from my neighborhood whom I told about. Sometimes, very-very occasionally… like Patrick Kilroy. He stopped at the gas station and spoke to the guy who worked there, and he was so much interested in Russian culture that later he came for 3 years in a row, and it was a great program he invented for our kids. It was fantastic!

GB: Wow! Gas station worker?

MM: Yes, because his family owned the gas station and mending shop but he was more kind of humanitarian person, he likes languages, he learned Russian also, and he has skills of arts and a lot of different things. And he played bag pipes, do you remember him?

GB: Oh, I saw him, yes.

MM: Patrick Kilroy… When I was checking internet at Detroit to come here on the 17th of June, we were checking our bags with our schools supplies in them and there was a couple who were teachers in Michigan who were travelling to Italy for vacation this year. And they asked me about the program, and they wanted to come next year. They said: “Sounds like something that we’d like to do. So, can we  have your card?” So, I gave them our card. I think they will come with us next year. So it’s things like that start teachers interested because this program is unique and different from a lot of other volunteer programs.

 Mini American Summer School Volunteers

About the Students and Inspiration

GB: So, I’m sure now a lot of students know about it and their parents. What regions or what districts of Novosibirsk do they come from or is it mostly Koltsovo?

MM: The problem is that if you live far from us… and they have  to come early in the morning and it’s a long way to go, especially in summer heat. Anyhow, this year we had a lot of students from lyceum 130 from Akademgorodok, from Gornostay, from gymnasium 10 and 1 which are the magnet schools in Novosibirsk and they still come… from Yeltsovka, from Berdsk, from Shlyuz*

GB: So, all of Novosibirsk already knows about this project!

MM: Yes, the other problem is that some of the children grew up and some of them leave, but we are waiting for another one. And every year we can invite 100 students and every year we have them without a single effort.

GB: No problem?

MM: Yes

KM: As you said… She doesn’t have to advertise and by April 1 we had 120 students registered without advertising.

GB: Wow! So, you have to think may be about second field, second site.

KM: No, Marianna, I know, will never do that

MM: I will die.

KM: Will die (laughing). Let younger teachers do that.

MM: Actually we have some graduators from our program who organize their own projects, their own summer camps. Svetlana Yudina from Bersk runs her own program for the last 7 years.

GB: Is she succesful?

MM: Yes, in Berdsk. So, nearly the same, but a bit different. She worked with us for a couple of years and then she decided… because she lives too far.

GB: Does she also invite American teachers?

MM: Yes, she has 2 British. It is a bit different, I mean, different conditions for volunteers. And as far as I know some years they run like a 24-hours camp. So, It’s different…

GB: But they were inspired by you.

MM: They were inspired, yes. And we are happy because sometimes people say: oh, it’s our project, don’t interfere, it’s ours, don’t copy and so on. We are happy. It’d a brilliant experience. We share. Just come and we explain whatever we do. But it’s a hard job (laughing).

KM: Two weeks it’s pretty easy, but we getting ready is much more…


*Akademgorodok, Gornostay, gymnasium 10 and 1 Yeltsovka, Berdsk, Shlyuz, towns and places in Novosibirsk area

Activities for Children and Adults

GB: I know that previously you also organized seminars for teachers, which I took part with gladly, and this year you stopped or last year?

KM: Last year we did English language clubs, that type of thing. To attract teachers at this time of year, in summer, it’s just difficult to do. When we had the camp earlier we received a lot more response from teachers, but now they want to get away from school. So, we found that we are going to involve people within the village who want to practice their English…

GB: Adults?

KM: Yes, adults… and speak with the English speakers.

GB: So you had it first time last year.

KM: Last year, yes.

GB: How was it?

KM: We had about 25 people.

MM: Yes. Because when we started our project there were not so many native speakers in the area. I mean, it was so special and every English teachers use their chance to listen to the native speakers and to get something from them. And since that time we have so many American methodologists and British methodologists all year round. That’s why it’s not so special anymore. But we still have a lot of adults. I mean, this year we plan speaking clubs for students of the high schools and just for adults who are at work for 2 days just to encourage them to speak more and to improve their speaking skills. On Monday and Tuesday.

GB: Is there going to be something special? May be a topic to discuss or a project?

KM: …One of our teachers who’s been with us four times, Jane Mires, is coming. She is going to do a couple of things special with the groups. She is a principal at a school near my home. She and one of her reading specialist are going to come and do a couple of special activities for the adults and the kids just to show them some things that they can do on their own. And then they’ll do some speaking activities.

MM: Our idea is not to do it to academic because everyone is tired of grammar and grammar. Good knowledge of grammar doesn’t make you speak actually. Perhaps they will do some American games or whatever, some fun, some interaction.

KM: Practice, practice, practice…

MM: No more drilling, no more grammar rules. Just fun!

Mini American Summer School speaking activities for adults

About the Influence of the Age on the Learning Abilities

GB: Kevin, as I told you I have 2 daughters who I speak English with from their birth and they are quite good at it. Not as native speakers, of course, but I’m quite happy (oldest is 5, the second is 3). I knew it before of course the earlier you begin with the language the better results you get. But you have school children, you have children from age 11, I guess, so what can you say? I know your children have a great progress, so it doesn’t mean everything is lost for them. What can you say about the influence of the age on the learning abilities.

KM: I think a lot of the parents of our primaries (which are students going into second, third and fourth grade), they want their students to get started with it. They’ve had maybe a year of English in the schools but again not with native speakers. It’s probably some writing, some reading or they teach to train their ear.  And believe me, that the younger kids by the end of the twoweeks really progress have really progressed. Just from listening to our primary teachers and working with their primary teacher on their language. So that theory that the younger you start, the better you become at it, I think, we can see that at our school, too. So, it’s very positive.

GB: So, you use no Russian at class at all?

KM: We do triple translation back and forth…

MM: Sometimes… it’s really hard when they misunderstand

GB: But who does it? Not American teachers, right?

KM: We have a teaching assistant with us who can translate some things, too…

GB: Aha, Russian teachers.

KM: …But with the older groups it becomes less and less that I need the teaching assistant, because the students understand more and more and more as they interact with my language, my accent. And …with the younger students.. it takes a little bit longer, but the same with them too. We translate some things in Russian to them to get them started but it becomes less  and less as the week progresses.

MM: My feeling with the primaries is that they catch easily and much much faster than other students. But they forget as easy as they catch.

GB: And you said that primaries just have been learning English maybe for one year, not more, whereas the older ones have been learning it longer and also they probably came last year at Koltsovo Mini American Summer School. So, if we compare those students who have already experience and those who just have started Who will have more progress?

KM: Well, I think the feedback we receive from the teachers of the older students when they come back in fall into their English classes is that they are much more confident in using their language.

GB: Both ages?

KM: I think so. We see it from their teachers that they feel more confident in their English studies because they’ve been through the program than those of their fellow-students that have been through some sort or English program during the summer. So, there’s confidence. At the beginning of our program they are reluctant to use it because they don’t want to make mistakes, but as they use it more and more during the weeks, during the days of the camp you see their confidence is much, much better, they are willing to share, willing to try. So, for us I think it’s more of the confidence back, they become more confident in their language, using the language.

Mini American Summer School participants

After the Camp is Done

GB: And after the camp is done, do they have some kind of… not homework, of course, but may be some materials or something that would remind them of the classes they had, so that they have a chance, if they want, to repeat, revise something they can do it.

KM: We give the students materials within our classes that they can take with them, but we encourage the students at the end of the program to practice, practice, practice. Even our Russian teacher of English and Russian teaching assistants… their English is better at the end of the two weeks because they’ve been interacting with us for those two weeks. It’s like anything else: you don’t become better at it unless you practice. So, we encourage our students to practice and use their English.

MM: It’s summer camps — that’s why we don’t have home assignments and all this stuff, but practicing half a day, every day in two weeks  it’s a lot. But we do encourage them to surf the net, to find some information for special days, for classes. Why not?

GB: Do you give them your contacts so they type you?

KM: Oh, yeah, to the older kids.

GB: Do they write?

KM: Oh, yeah, we keep in touch with the younger kids and with the older kids. But the younger kids… they forget much. (laughing) They forget after a couple of weeks, then they come back the next year. But, you know, the lesson that I’ve been doing the last two times deals with looking at some videos and turning on the subtitles, so that they are reading and they are listening. And I say: «This is something very simple, this is something very easy to do to train your ear. You know, to turn on the subtitles of an English movie, an English show, English sitcom, those types of things, and then watch it, read the words and listen to it too. That’s a good way to train your ear».

GB: So, they can do it after the camp is done?

KM: Yes.

MM: And it’s a great preparation for our state exam. It’s really great because it is the most difficult task with subtitles or feeling the gaps, when it’s not just a phrase or a grammar, but when it’s a part of the text or it’s a heading or something like that. We have the lowest score for this. Though it looks pretty easy, but in fact it’s not. So, we really do a good job for us.

GB: Well. I think we have to stop here because I don’t want to torture you anymore…Thank you very much. And if you have any question to me later, I’m very happy to answer.

MM: Come and participate!

GB: Sure, I will.

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