How far is it from Magna to Moscow? the child asked.
It's about 10,000 miles, the Soviet replied. "There is about 10 hours difference in time. It's on the other side of the planet."The exchange between the school child and the Soviet inspector, who is stationed near the Hercules plant under the terms of INF Treaty, took place recently at Magna's Copper Hills Elementary School.
Friday, at nearby Lake Ridge Elementary, schoolchildren dressed in "Soviet" red, formed circles, going around and around to Cherry Wong's instructions in the folk dances of the Soviet state of Uzbekistan. Strung across the front of the school was the school's name in Russian.
Copper Hills and Lake Ridge are two of 10 Granite School District elementary and junior high schools that have embraced a week-long educational program on the Soviet Union. Established by the Utah/Soviet Awareness Committee, a group of 35, the program introduces schoolchildren in grades K-12 to the Soviet Union through geography, social studies, history, literature, language, visual arts and music.
While the obvious reason for the Soviet study is the inspectors who are monitoring Hercules, the seed for the program's blossoming was planted last October when Soviet Awareness Project Director Elise Lazar traveled with Women Concerned About Nuclear War, a local peace group, to the Soviet Union.
There, she and other U.S. women met Soviet women one on one, and found that they had a lot in common.
"We discovered that their concerns were our concerns. We spoke a lot about our children, education, peace," Lazar said.
While they realized there was a lot of common ground, the U.S. women soon discovered a big difference - the Soviets had a tremendous amount of knowledge about America and Americans.
The American travelers talked about ways, including exchange programs and pen pals, to broaden their countrymen's knowledge of the Soviet people. But when the INF Treaty was signed last December, Lazar and the Utah women who had toured the Soviet Union recognized they had been given a tremendous opportunity right in their own back yard.
"We decided that we need to focus our energies and use this as an opportunity for growth," Lazar said.
That realization led to the birth of the high-powered Utah/Soviet Awareness Committee, which developed a school curriculum that relies heavily upon University of Utah professors and community leaders with expertise on the Soviet Union.
For example, Christopher Wilkins, associate conductor of the Utah Symphony, helped develop the music lessons discussing Soviet composers.
To participate in the pilot program, each school agreed to have all teachers spend at least 20 minutes daily on the Soviet Union during the week. That has included everything from visits from Peter the Great and Catherine the Great (U. drama students dressed in full costume who gave dramatic history presentations) to Soviet storytelling and lessons on the cyrillic alphabet.
The lessons were designed to grade-appropriate levels. Kindergarteners learned the Soviet children's Peace Song and colored pictures depicting the words, while older students were introduced to Stravinsky's "The Firebird."
Lazar said the extensive lesson plans can be used beyond the scheduled week, and some teachers plan to do just that. Each participating school received in-service training on the materials before its Soviet Awareness Week.
Ray Kartchner, Granite district social studies teacher leader, said the district plans to expand the program to all of its 90 schools and will share materials with the multidistrict International Committee. He said the district wants to use the Soviet Awareness Project as the start of a continuing program that will educate schoolchildren on a different country each year.
Funded through a grant by the Utah Endowment for the Humanities, the program came to the district without cost. But Kartchner said it wasn't the lack of expense that made the program so attractive. The program brought together resources that it would have been difficult for any school - or school district - to pull together without tremendous effort and expense.
"This is really a great example of the community, professionals and parents working together to enrich the lives of children," Kartchner said.
Have the children enjoyed it? The students twirling to the Russian folk music at Lake Ridge Elementary School seemed to be having a good time. But principal Jerry Pulsipher said he found the week gave the students a greater lesson than the ones found in music, dance or any other topic in the curricula.
"They've been able to see slides of Soviet children and adults, and now they know they're just people like the rest of us," Pulsipher said.