The Path from an ACCS School to Notre Dame to Russia
by Jeanette Faulkner | Spring 2016
at the top of the world
There’s no telling where a classical Christian education can land you. It landed Katie Bascom three degrees from the Arctic Circle in Ukhta, Russia. However, because she has been fascinat- ed with Russia since childhood, this is exactly where she wants to be.
She was introduced to the culture by family friends who adopted two Russian girls. She came to love Russian fairy tales and stories of Russian history. As a high school student at New Covenant Christian School (NCCS) in Maryland, she was captivated by the writings of Dostoevsky, Chekhov, and Tolstoy. She knew that one day she would learn Russian, so she could read the stories in the original language.
Her progression through the Great Books taught Katie that literature doesn’t exist in a vacuum; to understand modern literature, one has to understand all that came before it. “I could recognize and understand forms because my middle and high school teachers gave me an understanding of biblical allusions and allusions from earlier cultures. I appreciated epics, historical chronicles, and fairy tales. Literature goes in a continuum. It doesn’t come out of nowhere,” Katie explains.
After becoming one of the first New Covenant graduates, Katie went on to major in Russian language and literature, and minor in medieval studies at Notre Dame University. Dr. David Gasperetti, Chair of the Department of German and Russian at Notre Dame, said of Katie, “She is an extremely perceptive reader of literature. Katie has also built an impressive resumé.”
That she has. She studied in St. Petersburg for a semester, wrote an honors thesis on Vladimir Nabokov, served as a Russian tutor, and helped organize Notre Dame’s Russian choir. No doubt all this helped her become a Fulbright Scholar through the State Department, which is why she is now teaching in Russia.
“At first, I was wait-listed. About two weeks after the last day of the waitlist period—and only a few days before I graduated—I got a phone call asking me to step in as an alternate and get ready to teach Russian students in Ukhta!” she recalls.
One might think that New Covenant afforded Katie many extra-curricular opportunities to develop such leadership. However, as a new school it offered one choice—Entomology Club. Choir was added after Katie and a classmate started a girls’ ensemble.
Parents often look at a new classical Christian school and assume the lack of extra-curricular programs will limit their child’s success. Katie is one of many students from start-up ACCS schools who found the exact opposite to be the case. In fact, new schools offer students an opportunity to demonstrate creativity and leadership by starting programs; thus, future students stand on the shoulders of entrepreneurs like Katie.
Katie is the kind of scholar who would have excelled with the right books and a park bench for a school. However, she credits her teachers at New Covenant, noting that, “In every subject, learning was through reading, looking for the author’s intent and making inferences. Each teacher developed those processes in my brain.” She added that her Latin studies taught her how to decline nouns, conjugate verbs, and grow accustomed to learning a language with a different syntax and set of rules. Thus her Latin studies enabled her ability to become conversant in Russian.
[box] The honors thesis experience could have been scary, “but I had already done that twice at New Covenant through my junior and senior theses.”[/box]
One of the first things she noticed at Notre Dame was how her relationship with her high school teachers gave her a unique perspective on college professors. “Many of my public school friends saw professors as givers of information; whereas on day one, I was comfortable walking up to my professors and having a conversation with them.” Furthermore, she realized that the honors thesis experience could have been scary, “but I had already done that twice at New Covenant through my junior and senior theses. I knew how to find information. I knew the scope of a 30-page paper. By trial and error I knew how much info to fit in and how broad or narrow the questions could be. I could handle the questions, the mental prep, and the practice.”
Katie will complete her year of teaching in Russia this summer, then seek a teaching job. Until then, she will keep looking for the northern lights for which Ukhta was nicknamed “The Northern Pearl”—another experience to add to her growing list.
JEANETTE FAULKNER is a former print and broadcast journalist who currently teaches logic, Latin and humanities at Grace Classical Christian Academy in Granbury, Texas.