When Natasha Ksendzoff decided to start the Russian School of Dallas (RSD) in March 2006, she had a dream of familiarizing her children with their heritage. A decade later, the school accomplishes just that for around 100 students each year from all over north Texas.
“When I came here, I taught [my children] myself,” Ksendzoff said. “But I thought, ‘It would be easier for them to be with other children learning this, to create a small Russian world for them.’”
Operated on the premises of the Dallas International School, RSD employs on average of 15 teachers per year. The staff teaches children from kindergarten through high school in Russian history, geography, language, and theater.
“Unfortunately in the United States, people start learning languages kind of late,” Ksendzoff said. “It’s very beneficial to start learning languages early on. There’s research that shows early exposure to languages is linked to benefits like literacy and logic.”
While RSD is not meant to be a stand-alone education system — classes for kids and adults are held outside school and work hours, in the evenings and on weekends — the supplemental classes RSD offers allow for further immersion into Russian culture than what is available through students’ primary education. The school offers different tuition brackets; for instance, private classes cost more than group classes.
You don’t have to be of Russian descent to attend the school, Ksendzoff said.
“There are some parents of students who want them to love their language, so they can communicate in Russian at home,” Ksendzoff said. “Some students got into it because their coaches or music teachers speak Russian, and because of that [they] want to learn Russian culture.”
Ksendzoff, the founder and principal of the school, has an intensive background in education. She moved to Dallas from Ukraine in 1995, where she worked as a school director, an adjunct professor at Chernivtsi University, and as an interpreter and translator.
“I saw how well the Dallas International School was working — a French-based school. So I decided to create my own school, and I did it,” Ksendzoff said.
In addition to the RSD program, the staff is working to publish textbooks applicable to all ages through their publishing house Lisa — which is Russian for “fox.”
Ksendzoff said most available Russian textbooks are for a higher level of comprehension, which doesn’t work well for younger learners. She said while their hope is to create, publish, and also translate Russian books to English regularly, it will take some time to accomplish these things on a large scale.
“When you are growing, sometimes too fast, there are problems from it,” Ksendzoff said. “You need to find more people, bigger spaces. It’s a monetary issue.”
The Russian School of Dallas fundraises through donations and through their annual Planet of Talents Festival, which took place in February this year. At the festival, performers from different cultural backgrounds come to play music or dance. Ksendzoff said she hopes to have the funds one day to support the growth they are experiencing.
“We need a bigger place,” Ksendzoff said. “We need to work sometimes in the morning while there are different classes going on. We need a lot of things — smart pads, computers — and we need funds to support the cost.”