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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Readying Moscow Teens for Britain's Universities

MTCross preparing 10th graders at the Anglo-Russian School to take the English A Level.
Frances Cross likens herself to Mary Poppins, the archetypal British governess, transplanted to Russia. And although she doesn't have a magic umbrella, her warm manner and infectious enthusiasm make the medicine -- in this case, challenging preparation for British university entrance exams -- go down in the most delightful way.

Cross, a teacher and freelance journalist, is director of studies and the English teacher at the Anglo-Russian School, a private school that opened in November 2001 with the goal of qualifying Russian students living in Moscow to attend British universities through a two-year preparatory course for A-Level (Advanced-Level) exams in English, mathematics and economics.

Cross says the idea for the Anglo-Russian School originated with Mikhail Gerchikov, the school's director.

"He's got teenage children himself, so he's passionate about this. He felt he needed to open the door for students who wanted to go abroad. And it's expensive to go and do A-levels abroad, so he thought, 'Let's have a school here,'" she says.

After returning to Britain in 1995 after an 18-year stint working in Africa, Cross was teaching at Concord College, a university-preparatory school in Shrewsbury, England, and the British partner of the Anglo-Russian school.

When the principal approached her about working in Moscow, Cross recalls, "I said, 'No, definitely not. No way. Never in my lifetime!'

"He took no notice, really, because here I am!" she says, laughing. "And I absolutely love it now, I really do."

In a short amount of time, the Anglo-Russian School has found funding, space, teachers and, of course, students.

Fees are a relatively modest $250 per month in order to keep the school accessible to students whose families are not wealthy, so private shareholders provide a great deal of the capital.

The school's 32 students, all in the 10th grade, were recruited through advertising. They then took rigorous written and oral entrance exams. The Russian teachers were recruited by various means, including word of mouth and advertisements.

Vera Volkova, the economics teacher, said there are some significant differences between British and Russian education. "At least to some extent, we [Russians] mainly concentrate on the theoretical part of education, but from the very beginning, they [the British] start to try to push the students to application."

To help acclimate the Russian teachers, they went to Concord to receive training in teaching methodology, as well as new textbooks and workbooks, before starting work in Moscow.

Because the students attend the Anglo-Russian school in addition to their regular studies in Russian schools, classes are held Monday and Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons.

"They spend their leisure time, so to speak, at our school. It presents certain difficulties in terms of how much homework we can give them, because they have limited time for home preparation," Volkova says.

Cross agrees, adding, "But they never miss [class, even though] none of them live in this area."

The school is currently located in a school building in a residential district in southern Moscow. However, given the lengthy commute for most students, the Anglo-Russian School will be moving to the more centrally located school No. 497 in the fall.

In addition to being more convenient, the move will allow the Anglo-Russian School to integrate its British curriculum with school No. 497's Russian curriculum. Starting next year, students will have an option of full-time daytime classes where the Russian comprehensive educational program will run concurrently with six lessons a week of English, mathematics and economics, taught in English, of course. Or, if students wish to remain in their current Russian schools, they can take evening and weekend classes three days a week. The student body is expected to increase to about 80, and classes in English literature and business studies, also for A-level preparation, will be added.

Cross is proud of her students' success with their dual academic loads, "I think the stuff they've done in their Russian education has been a very good start for their A-level work," she says.

And their A-level work has been done under unusual time constraints.

"They were supposed to start in September, but they started Nov. 1," Cross said. "So they've now done a year's work in a very short period of time. They will re-enroll next year for the second year. Some of them will be going on to British universities and some will go to university here in Moscow."

If some of the students won't go on to British universities, why bother with British-style preparation? "I think even if they never use it [English language] as anything in relation to A-levels particularly, it empowers them because it's the development and dynamic use of language," Cross said. "And economics and maths [are useful] because a lot of them are looking toward business careers."

The students agree. "Studying here helps us go directly into a deep study of economics," says Ilya, 15. Other students add that the intensity of study and the use of English will be valuable not only at a British university or elsewhere abroad, but also in Russia.

For more information, the offices of the Anglo-Russian School are located at 3/9 Malaya Kommunisticheskaya Ulitsa, Bldg. 1. Tel. 911-7440.