Manaugh elementary students gathered around a laptop Thursday anxious to ask a folklore expert in Russia a question.
The expert answered questions via a real-time video connection ranging from how to say mom in Russian, to the number of volcanoes in Russia.
Montessori teacher Caitlin Munroe met the expert, Natalya Maximova, on her recent state department sponsored trip to Russia and arranged for Maximova to speak with the students in first through fifth grade.
Munroe was one of six teachers in the country selected to visit a rural village called Ust Buzulukskaya in western Russia. On the recent trip, the teachers learned about and recorded folklore from the local people.
Many of the local people had never met a native English speaker or anyone from America and were very excited to speak with the teachers, she said. She found the natives warm and kind.
“I felt so cared for,” she said.
The group that she worked with has recorded 10,000 traditional songs and is still working to preserve culture in Russia.
One of her goals of the trip was to bring back material that would help students broaden their knowledge of Russia beyond stereotypical symbols of Russia including the Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, nesting dolls and vodka.
“My goal is that it will help them see the similarities rather than the differences. I think it’s easy to say: ‘Oh yeah, that’s weird, or that’s strange’ of another culture or another tradition and to dismiss it,” she said.
Since she returned she has introduced her students to some of the cultural similarities such as the McDonald’s and Starbucks in Moscow and some similar agrarian traits like raising livestock, she said. She also covered some differences and a few some her students were taken with the Cyrillic alphabet.
She hopes to integrate what she learned into her classes in the years to come. As a Montessori instructor she uses the fundamental needs of humans, including art and beauty, as a lens to cover civilizations from all over the world. She thinks this is key in an increasingly global society.
“The students here and everywhere need an understanding of people from other areas,” she said.