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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In Training to Be Moscow Patriots

What is the origin of the street name Arbat? Can you trace it to a Russian word?

Where in Moscow is the Tower of Queen Sugumbeki? Where is the original tower located?

Schoolchildren no longer need to memorize Lenin's quotes but they must become experts on "their little motherland." Mayor Yury Luzhkov wants the city's students "to be brought up as patriots of the Russian capital," Education Ministry officials said at a recent press conference. To that end, primary and secondary schools have added Moscow Studies to their mandatory curriculums since 1994.

Eighth grader Irina Maltseva easily explained the etymology of Arbat -- a question in an ongoing "Moscow Studies Olympiad." Said Maltseva, "Some say that the word Arbat comes from the Tatar word arba, or wagon. However, it is possible that the Russian root is gorbat (crooked or hunchbacked) because the street is crooked."

She had more difficulty with the second question, but Nikolai Arsenyev, a ninth-grader from school No. 721, responded with enthusiasm, "The Queen Sugumbeki Tower is located at the Kazan train station, and its original is in Kazan."

The city-wide Olympiad began last September and will culminate with prizes awarded to the winners during the city's 850th anniversary celebrations this coming September. School teams compete through games, essays and research projects.

In the Moscow Central School District's ongoing game "My Moscow," competing teams walk through neighborhoods answering questions about the history of streets or buildings and identifying homes of famous Muscovites.

"The children get into these games so much that they find the oldest residents and ask them to show them the area and talk about the history," said Yevgeny Alekseyev, head of the Central School District.

Apart from classroom work on city history and geography, and the Olympiad, the most popular items are the city tours. "I really like learning about things I can see -- streets, museums, buildings -- and not invisible molecules," said Maltseva.

Alexei Petrov, whose daughter graduated from school No. 689 in 1996, admitted that he was not able to interest his daughter in the Tretyakov Gallery or Bolshoi Theater. "But after going on school trips for this course, she became interested herself, and even asked for a book on Moscow which has been on our shelf for years."

Some of the students are unable to afford the city tours. Boris Petrosyan's 10-year-old daughter, Marina, came home in tears one day because she couldn't buy a ticket for a city tour. "The tour only cost 20,000 rubles. But I simply did not have it. How can we even talk about something like this making my little girl love the city?" said Petrosyan.

New disciplines, such as Moscow Studies and Ethics and Ecology, have been introduced into school curriculums since 1994, "to make education relevant to the new life in Russia," according to Sergei Rusloparov of the Moscow Committee on Education. Moscow Studies "is an example of the new, more integrated approach to learning, which helps children see the entire picture: my city, my country in the context of the world," he said.

Tatyana Timofeyevna, the director of school No. 155, has had trouble finding teachers, however, for an interdisciplinary course like Moscow Studies -- an approach that did not exist in the rigid Soviet curriculum. "Though we have a geography and a history teacher, we do not have anyone to conduct this course, which requires a knowledge of art." The Ministry of Education offers training courses at their continuing education center, but most teachers at understaffed schools do not have time to go.