В 45 номере журнала «Новости Ассоциации учителей провинции Алберта», Канада Лора харрис рассказывает об уникальной трех-язычной (англо-франко-русской) школе в провинции Алберта, в которой более 60% учеников составляют русские старообрядцы.
Old Believers nothing new at inclusive École Plamondon School
November 30, 2010
Laura Harris, ATA News Staff
Students attending École Plamondon School, in Plamondon, participate in the annual Terry Fox run. The school is home to a rich and vibrant community. Featured here, the three students in long dresses are members of the Russian Old Believers community.
The sight probably would’ve stopped Terry Fox in his tracks.
Against the backdrop of a clear blue prairie sky, a sunlit trail of girls wearing headscarves and long flowing dresses in an array of brilliant colours and patterns walked, jogged, ran and giggled down the sidewalks of a small Alberta hamlet, raising awareness of the cause to which Terry Fox dedicated the last years of his life.
The sight was nothing out of the ordinary in Plamondon, a hamlet located in Lac la Biche County, in northern Alberta. The girls and their male counterparts, dressed in peasant-style tops of equally brilliant colours with rope sashes around their waists, are students at École Plamondon School. It was the day of the Terry Fox run and everyone at the K–12 school was encouraged to participate, including the school’s student population of Russian Old Believers.
École Plamondon School is an English-French-Russian (EFR) school. It has a French immersion program and a Russian bilingual program in addition to standard K–12 programs. A formal count has not yet been performed this year, but last year, Russian Old Believers made up 69 per cent of its student body, which has approximately 400 students from various ethnicities, cultures and religions. The Old Believer children might stand out to unacquainted observers, but after one spends a little time in the school, they quickly turn into plain old students. Principal Morris Holota can attest to that.
It is Holota’s first year at the school, but not his first experience with a student population with distinct religious and cultural customs. He knows that the right school and classroom situations can work to reduce differences, if not erase them altogether.
“You know what’s really interesting, for example, is our volleyball team. When they go out to volleyball practices or games, you can’t tell who’s Old Believer and who’s not,” said Holota, adding, “The kids all get along very well.”
The relationship between the Old Believer community and the school is just as successful. In 2004/05, École Plamondon School had one Russian language teacher, and Russian was taught only as an option. The male students dropped out of school with parent permission at the age of 14 to work to support their families and family enterprises. Today, the school has three Russian teachers, the Russian bilingual program is currently taught in Grades K–6 (Grades 7–9 will be phased in as bilingual learning streams over the next three years) and Russian 10, 20 and 30 options are available to all high school students. More and more boys are staying in school past the age of 14, and many of them graduate. And more than ever, parents are choosing École Plamondon School over the option of homeschooling.
Shane Ennest, the school’s Russian teacher for Grades 3 and 4, has taught at the school for seven years and has witnessed subtle shifts in attitudes and behaviours of the Old Believer parents in regard to schooling choices. “I think because of the teachers’ sensitivity to the community, the fact that the Russian program has expanded, and maybe because we’re rethinking how we present curriculum, a large number of homeschoolers have actually registered in school,” said Ennest. “Now, whether that’s because of teacher sensitivities or because of the Russian bilingual program and parents being very happy with their children receiving education in Russian, I don’t know for sure.”
If Holota could confirm Ennest’s speculations when he has his first meeting with the Russian school council, maybe he could share his findings. The success École Plamondon School has had in fostering an inclusive, respectful and positive school could make schools in similar situations sit up and take notice.
Who are the Old Believers?
Old Believers who settled in the Plamondon area are direct descendants of Russians who rejected reforms made to the rites and texts of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1652.
The Russian Orthodox Church, with the support of the Russian state, anathematized pre-1652 rites and texts, and those who remained faithful to them—for example, Old Believers—were stripped of their civil rights and suffered persecution, including torture and executions.
Over the years, Old Believers fled to escape forced exile and persecution that occurred during various tsarist regimes and after the Russian Revolution of 1917; many settled in Ukraine, China and Brazil.
The Moscow Patriarchate revoked the anathemas imposed on the Old Believers in 1971.
Significant Old Believer communities exist in Canada and the United States. Settlements have been established in Plamondon, Alberta; Woodburn, Oregon; Homer and Nikolaevsk, Alaska; and, Erskine, Minnesota.
Old Believers are not communal, a fact reflected in the diversity of their contributions to the local economy, where some work and operate businesses in the more traditional field of agriculture while others have branched out into manufacturing and construction.
Males don’t shave—this reflects their belief that men are to appear in the image of Christ, who had a beard. Females never cut their hair and dress conservatively in long dresses and, at the discretion of individual families, headscarves.
Old Believers observe 40 annual religious celebrations.
Old Believers do not eat from the same dishes as non-believers, and non-believers are not allowed to eat from the same dishes as Old Believers.
Alberta Teachers’ Association > Publications > ATA News > Volume 45 2010-11 > Number 8 > Old Believers