The Russian Defence Ministry's military school was built exclusively for daughters of Russian servicemen. Priority is given to girls from families in which a member has been awarded the prized ‘Hero of Russia’ medal. This recognition is given to servicemen with over 20 years of military service and those who died carrying out their military duties.
The school annually accepts only 120 girls who are 11 years old, though the number of those vying to enter the institution is much higher. During the entrance competition, there could be between 6 and 40 girls vying for one place, a situation comparable to entrance competitions for the best Russian universities.
It is not enough to just present your parents' merits to enter the school. The girl must have excellent health and be distinguished by great success. The candidates are examined by a psychologist, while pedagogues check their knowledge of Russian, mathematics and foreign languages.
"The school created its own selection system. We had to mature really quickly and this made us strong and motivated," recalls Vika Melnikova, a graduate of the school.
How is the military school different from ordinary schools?
"The school is a small version of real life. Sometimes there are difficulties, sometimes there are tears, but in the end you see that there is meaning in everything,” Vika said.
A total of 840 cadets live in Moscow on a full state scholarship, going home only during vacations. Their studies are based on a plan designed not by the Education Ministry but by the Defence Ministry. Paradoxically, the cadets do not learn military affairs, but all the disciplines taught at the best private schools.
"We were free to do any sport we wished - swimming, equestrianism, figure skating, freestyle wrestling, even fencing," said another graduate, Sasha Bened. "We had the opportunity to visit artist workshops and, with their help, try to create something of our own. We were taught to play musical instruments. The school has a group of drummers who compete in various contests. Each year they participate in the Spasskaya Tower Musical Festival on Red Square."
After graduating from the school, some girls continue the family tradition and become military doctors or military translators, but most girls choose a civilian profession. The knowledge acquired at the school allows them to easily pass entrance exams at any Russian university. Sasha, for example, entered the Finance and Credit Department of the Russian State University of Social Sciences. Simultaneously, she studied at the Arts College and now works as an interior designer.
The school sends several cadets to study abroad each year, paying for the courses, as well as for their board and lodging. Melnikova was one of those girls. First she attended Bath College in the UK and then studied business in America.
The graduates say both the school's weekday and weekend schedules are filled with exercises and that they would return to their two-bed rooms only in the evening.
"Our day would always begin with physical exercise and a good hearty breakfast. Then we'd go to the lectures and afterwards study additional subjects. There was free time after dinner and on the weekends. We had to be in bed by 11:00 p.m.," Sasha remembers. During the weekends the cadets would attend the theatres, museums and concerts.
Not only was the cadets' education of excellent quality, but also their leisure time. Their practical and material conditions are also very far from those in the army. The new arrivals are given a Notebook that they use until graduation. Each girl has her own wardrobe.
"We had everything - from skiing suits to ball dresses. Our wardrobe designers were famous Russian stylists Kira Plastinina and Valentin Yudashkin," said Sasha.
Physical education in the school is not just your ordinary school phys ed. The strict programme was developed according to methods practiced at the Cosmonaut Preparation Centre and includes exercises to improve one's agility, speed, endurance, flexibility and strength. Additional exercises are conducted by Honoured Masters of Sports, some of whom were once part of the Russian Olympic team.
Nutrition is also very important. The school has its own nutrition expert. But sometimes the teachers give the girls small sweets in order to cheer them up far from home.
"I think that relations between the cadets and the teachers are much different from the ones in regular schools. The military school teachers are not just teachers - they are the only windows to life. Girls miss their mothers and grandmothers and often see the teachers and educators as substitutes," Vika explained.
"I am really grateful to them for their support when it was very difficult. For their belief in us when we were really down,” said Sasha. “For them being strict and just when it was necessary. Basically, they became our second family."
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