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Kansas high-schoolers can apply for free Russian language classes through KU program

Russian studies photo.jpeg
Courtesy photo
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Ani Kokobobo
About 80 Kansas high school students enrolled in free online Russian courses last school year through the University of Kansas. Ani Kokobobo, second from the top on the right, heads the program and says new grant funding will allow KU to reach more students.

A grant from the U.S. Russia Foundation will fund free online Russian language classes for Kansas high school students. The courses also explore Russia’s history, culture and politics.

A new grant from the U.S. Russia Foundation will fund free online Russian language courses for Kansas high school students.

Ani Kokobobo, a University of Kansas researcher, says the ongoing war in Ukraine is one reason the classes are necessary. High school students who sign up will learn the basics of speaking Russian but will also explore the country’s history, culture and politics.

“You can’t just say, ‘Oh, this is a cool language.’ Russia is complicated right now,” said Kokobobo, chair of KU’s Department of Slavic, German and Eurasian Studies. “How do we think about this culture in a way that is thoughtful and critical, also with regard to current events?”

The $220,000 grant will build on previous funding that financed online courses for about 80 Kansas high-schoolers last school year. The new funding will pay for intermediate-level classes for those students, as well as beginning language classes for about two dozen new students.

KU plans to add a lecture series focused on Russia’s racial and ethnic diversities and the history of conflict in the region.

“It’s important for us to apply a critical lens to Russia,” Kokobobo said. “Does Russia have a colonial history, looking to occupy other countries? Things like this are important for students to keep at the forefront of their minds and approach both the language and the culture with … critical mindsets, with just more information.”

The U.S. Russia Foundation is an American nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. It has no ties to the Russian government.

Earlier this year, the organization released a statement saying it “condemns the Russian government’s unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine.”

Kokobobo said the Russian language classes are designed for high school students who want to enrich their studies and earn college credit. The course is primarily self-paced, independent study. Every two weeks, the students meet online with instructors to practice what they’ve learned.

A five-day summer workshop, dubbed “Russia Week,” focuses on more cultural and language topics, with a virtual tour of the St. Petersburg Museum and lessons on Russian music, political systems, female leaders and more.

The project comes after many Kansas high schools have cut or reduced their foreign language offerings. Only KU and the Fort Riley military base in Junction City currently teach Russian, Kokobobo said.

High school students interested in taking Russian through the program should complete an interest form on KU’s website. They can also email slavic@ku.edu or call 785-864-9250 for more information.

The deadline to register is July 31.

Suzanne Perez reports on education for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.