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Why Russian math classes are the new summer camps


 Kids' summer activities: Students work on math problems at the Russian School of Mathematics in San Jose, Calif.
Russian School of Mathematics. Students work on math problems at the Russian School of Mathematics in San Jose, Calif.

With colleges and even some high schools harder to get into these days, summer has become a time for kids to try to make themselves stand out.

Summer vacation has traditionally been a time for kids to relax, play outside, go to day camp or hang out at the beach. Not anymore. With acceptance rates at top colleges (and even some high schools) well under 10 percent, summer has become the time to learn a new language, take a Russian math class or travel abroad to help build that curriculum vitae. Even traditional day camps for younger kids are moving toward shorter sessions with more intense concentrations.

Colleges like to see kids busy and engaged, said Cristiana Quinn, an independent college advisor. She encourages her clients to take classes at their local college, shadow a professional for career exploration or do a community service trip abroad — but warns against going too far.

"I see kids going to Thailand or Cambodia to work in orphanages and it's really opening their eyes," said Quinn. "I've seen middle schoolers in intense sports camps with personal trainers in the hopes of years from now being recruited for Division I soccer or lacrosse. These kids should be out playing in the yard. It's out of control. Your seventh grader doesn't need to be going to Russian math class."

Maybe not. But many teens who are years away from applying to college are not only interested in making their summers less leisurely to help them stand out academically; they also think an intense, education-filled summer is fun. 

RSM-MetroWest in Press

By Cindy Cantrell

Boston Globe, September 13, 2009

EDUCATION FIRST: After waiting nine years for a visa, Anna Charny fled with her husband and their 3-month-old daughter from the religious discrimination and political repression of their native Soviet Union in 1988. More important than any of the material possessions in their three suitcases was the enduring respect for education they carried with them to Brookline.

“That’s what gave me a jump start and allowed me to contribute meaningfully to this country,’’ said Anna CharnyCharny, who lives in Sudbury now. “That’s what I try to give to children.’’

In 2003, Charny cofounded the MetroWest School of Mathematics in Marlborough as an affiliate to the Russian School of Mathematics in Newton, which her daughter attended. A year later, the MetroWest School moved to Framingham and has grown from 40 students to more than 300 in kindergarten through Grade 12.

On Wednesday, a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrated the school’s relocation to an expanded facility at 5 Auburn St. in Framingham, where after-school and weekend classes include math, art, chess, language, and preparation for SAT math and English exams.

In addition to serving as director of the MetroWest School, Charny is a cofounder of the Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School in Marlborough, and an academic adviser to the Russian School. All the while, she has held a full-time job in algorithm development at Cisco Systems Inc.

“It’s very rewarding to see the kids succeed,’’ Charny said. “It wasn’t easy, but I’m very proud of where we are now.’’

Education adds up at Framingham Math School

By Bob Tremblay/Daily News staff

The MetroWest Daily News, September 29, 2008


MetroWest School of Mathematics

Photo by Kathleen Culler


During an after-school class at the MetroWest School of Mathematics in Framingham, Margaret Sparicio works out a math problem at the whiteboard under the direction of her teacher, Anna Charny.



The MetroWest School of Mathematics has seen its enrollment jump from 40 during its first year of operation to 240 in its fifth year.

That’s an increase of:
A. 100 percent
B. 200 percent
C. 500 percent
D. None of the above
E. None of your business

Young readers who answered "C" would feel right at home at the Framingham school, which teaches mathematics to children in kindergarten through grade 12. The after-school program also offers math and English SAT classes, Russian language classes, chess classes and art classes.

Boris Serebrennikov, one of the school’s directors, attributes the enrollment growth to an increased interest in math.

"More and more parents see the need for their kids to learn more in math," says the Shrewsbury resident. "Colleges are becoming pickier. In order to get into a good college, you need better SAT scores. Parents want their kids to be ready in this new environment, where the better-educated students have the advantage."

Case in point, the average SAT math score in the United States is 548 with 800 being the best score possible. The average SAT math score at the Russian School of Mathematics in Newton, of which the Framingham school is an affiliate, is 774. (Most of the MetroWest students, who use the same curriculum, have yet to reach SAT-taking age to quote valid statistics.)

Olga Serebrennikov, another school director and Boris’ wife, says the MetroWest school takes the traditional approach to study mathematics.

"We believe our program can enrich what is currently taught in the public school system," she says. "We’re not substituting it by any means. We do something in addition to it.
"Children who are not challenged enough or struggling in their school, this helps them. And many schools have seen the value of programs like this."

Adds Anna Charny, one of MetroWest’s directors and teachers, "We felt the serious need for additional math education for many of the children we knew. It turns out over the years that many families share that view."

Charny was among the founders of the MetroWest school and the Russian school along with Newton residents Irina Khaviason and Iness Rifkin. The Russian school is 10 years old. The MetroWest school spent its first year in Marlborough before moving to Framingham.

Introducing math to children early is one of the keys to the school’s success, according to Charny.

"We start some algebra concepts as early as in kindergarten," says the Sudbury resident. "The children just don’t know it’s algebra.

"We make sure the children get all the necessary tools, but at the same time, we teach and strongly encourage logical thinking from the very start.

"By the fourth grade, we see a dramatic difference between our fourth-grade graduates and those who come to us at that time, and with every year the difference grows.

"When children come to us in the first, second and third grades, as a rule of thumb, we place them a year behind in our program. By the time they’re in fourth grade, it’s already somewhere between one and two years. By the time we get to high school, we’re facing a dilemma where we have trouble placing children in the class close to their age so we end up creating special classes for these children so we can introduce them to all of the material they have missed."

The average class size at the school is 10-12 with classes taking place during the week after school and on weekends. Classes run two hours in length for all grades except kindergarten, where they last 90 minutes. The cost is $135 for eight hours of instruction with a $100 registration fee.

Before enrolling, children take a placement test to make sure they’re put in the appropriate class. Though some classes are filled, openings are available.

"If parents feel their children need math skills, we are a good program," says Charny. "Schools, in general, are not the most lucrative business. Our primary goal is education. We frequently refer children to other schools, in particular the Russian School of Mathematics, when we feel the placement there is more appropriate for the student, either because of timing or level."

MetroWest has both an established curriculum and qualified teachers, says Charny, noting that some instructors have 20 to 30 years of experience. "We also have qualified management and a pleasant environment. The kids love it here and they look forward to it."

The school is located on a side street in an office building that looks more like a home than a school. Classes are taught in three classrooms.

Hemant Singh of Westford, who has two children enrolled in the school, praises the MetroWest staff. "They know what they’re doing," he says.

Isabel Anderson, 10, a fifth-grader at the school and the Peter Noyes School in Sudbury, says she likes MetroWest because "they teach math at my level." She notes she originally went to the school to be with a friend. While her friend is no longer in her class, Isabel says she enjoys the school so much she decided to stay.

(Bob Tremblay can be reached at or 508-626-4409.)

Director: Anna Charny
Employees: 17
Industry: Education
Company background: Located at 5 Auburn St. in Framingham, the MetroWest School of Mathematics is an after-school educational program for children in grades K-12. Its Web site is


RSM in Press

A Russian Soution to the US problem

By: Scott S. Greenberger, Globe Staff|Date: May 7, 2001

Israelis swell ranks of math school

September 29, 2009
By Elise Kigner, The Jewish Advocate Staff

When children from Israel move to the United States, they find math to be their easiest subject. When American children settle in Israel, they tend to need a year of math tutoring to catch up.

That is the observation of Orly Bejerano, an Israeli whose three daughters, Gal, 11, Dar, 9, and Shai, 7, were born in the United States.

The Natick mother, like many other native Israelis, sends her kids to "math school," after-school and weekend classes at the Metrowest School of Mathematics in Framingham. About 15 percent of the student body is made up of children of Israelis and many others are Jewish as well, according to Principal Anna Charny.

Bejerano said she knows at least 12 Israeli families who each send two or three children to the school.

Since opening in 2003, the school has expanded in enrollment by 30 percent or more each year. After outgrowing its old Framingham location, the school moved around the corner this month to a two-story brick building at 5 Auburn St. The school has 350 students taking one or more classes. It now occupies just one floor, but Charny expects it will eventually take over the second too.

At the opening celebration, guests munched on a Sudoku cake and kids played with a giant chess board. And the ribbon that was cut? A Mobius strip, a mathematical oddity.

The party exemplified how the school makes math fun, while pushing students to learn more than they would in public school alone.

Administrators, teachers and families offered varying reasons— such as the Jewish work ethic and the power of word-of-mouth—for the large Israeli enrollment.

Charny, who was born in Moscow, came to the United States in 1987 after being a refusenik for 10 years.

Besides Israelis, she said, the school has large Indian and Russian contingents and smaller numbers of Chinese and Brazilians.

"The way the demographics work is once a small community starts coming, the word spreads," Charny said, noting that it's not just immigrant groups who are concerned about math education.

"The need for quality math education is widely recognized by the community at large - business people, politicians, the heads of large companies, the educational community," she said.

The Metrowest school is affiliated with the Russian School of Mathematics. The Metrowest school is co-owned by Charny and the co-founders of the Russian School of Mathematics, Inessa Rifkin and Irina Khavinson. All the classes are offered after the public schools let out.

The schools use a curriculum based on the theories of early 20th-century Russian educator Lev Vygotsky. Algebra is introduced as early as kindergarten, and middle school students are encouraged to take the SATs.

The first Russian School of Mathematics branch, which is in Newton, has more than 1,700 students. The Marblehead branch enrolls about 60, while 220 attend the Acton school, which now in its second year has tripled its enrollment. The school also has a branch in Santa Clara, Calif., where Khavinson is the principal.

Immigrant families account for 40 to 50 percent of those sending students to the Greater Boston schools, said Rifkin.

Rifkin estimated that at her Newton school more than half the students are Jewish.

While she didn't have figures, Rifkin said she can tell the school is drawing more Israelis. She said when the parents talk, their "hands are everywhere."

Rikin, who is Russian, started the school in her dining room in 1997 as a way to give her son and daughter a supplementary math education. She saw low math standards in the public schools, even in Newton. She quit her full-time job as a senior software engineer, and began teaching math after school in her home with Khavinson. They began the year with 10 students and ended with 60.

Rifkin's children are now in their 20s, and both have jobs on Wall Street. She said she never expected the schools to become as successful as they now are.

"When I quit my full-time job, I was pretty sure I was doing a mitzvah for my kids," she said. "Now, I realize they did a mitzvah for me"