Marina Moiseeva is the Principal of ORT Moscow Technology School, Gymnasium # 1540. My recent conversation with her focused on two topics:
- How the school strikes the right balance between a busy state-regulated curriculum and the demands of ORT’s Jewish & technological education.
- How the school has successfully integrated into mainstream lessons students with special educational needs.
Striking the right balance between a busy state-regulated curriculum and the demands of ORT’s Jewish & technological education
Our school was established in 1994, with the status of a state-funded school. This means that 95% of our budget comes from national and municipal budgets, and only 5% is collected through fundraising (including the efforts of World ORT) and parents’ donations.
Like any other state-funded school, we are obliged to work through a fixed curriculum of compulsory school subjects, developed and approved by the Ministry of Education & Science of the Russian Federation, together with the Moscow Department of Education. This leaves us with only 5 hours per week per student for additional specialist subjects, such as – in our case – computer science and Jewish history & traditions. Some Hebrew teaching can be incorporated as language teaching in the state curriculum, but this still has to be topped up. In practice, our technology and computer science specialism requires 4 hours per week, our Jewish specialism requires a minimum of 5 hours per week alone.
Although these specialist subjects are considered to be very important by the school and by students’ families, none of the subjects are included in the final school exams used as entrance criteria by universities. The formal education system only regards them as “supplementary”. In addition, there are no officially certified teaching programs for these subjects. As a result, inspectors always ask lots of questions about the teaching of these subjects when they visit the school.
It is a real challenge for us to strike the right balance. Our students’ parents expect the school to guarantee good results and a smooth passage to university. At the same time, they specifically chose a Jewish school because they wanted their children to be educated in a Jewish environment.
From a practical perspective, there are simply not enough hours in the school week to fit everything in. Other gymnasiums and lyceums in Moscow actually open on a Saturday and work a 6-day week to fit everything in and to spread the weekly workload more evenly. However, as a Jewish school we would not open on a Saturday. As a consequence, we have to make the school days longer, which is officially not allowed and puts us at risk of being punished! The funny thing is that we have never been punished. Our set-up is something of an open secret. I think that the city educational authorities know about our specific curriculum and additional subjects, but since they have no clear understanding of what to do with a Jewish school and what the borders of our religious freedoms should be, they just pretend not to see us.
Integrating into mainstream lessons students with special educational needs
We are in the 8th year of our Integration Project, supported by the Jewish Agency and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, involving several Jewish schools in Moscow. We have learnt a lot and received guidance from outstanding professionals in the USA and Israel. We now have a clear and well-developed system in place to cover enrolment, socialization, learning and teacher training.
Our school specializes in integrating students with Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Typically, we enrol no more than 3 or 4 students with special needs in a class of 25. However, this number can increase owing to the fact that some parents may not disclose full details about the educational needs of their child until they have already been enrolled.
In 2011 our first group of students with special educational needs graduated the school successfully, and most of them are now first year students at Moscow universities. This article details the experiences of a visitor from the USA who came to our school and was positively affected by our Integration Project.