Every year, dozens of young men and women finish their studies at Step Up. But Step Up is more than an place where you get an education – it is also a community; somewhere you can find help and support; and a place to meet friends.
We pride ourselves on the fact that many of graduates stay in touch with us after their studies are over, continue to take part in events – and sometimes even volunteer to help at the centre.
In recent years, Step Up has begun to organise reunions for graduates – a day when we gather together all the graduates from the centre so everyone can find out what each other has been up to, re-connect with teachers and classmates, meet current students and find out what’s going on at Step Up.
This year, we held our graduate reunion in a slightly different format – as a film festival! Some of our graduates, current students and volunteers showed films that they had made, and then there was a chance to ask the creators questions and share opinions and impressions.
The films included a documentary shot by one of our volunteers about a remote region of northern Russia and the reindeer herders who live there.
The work of Step Up would not be possible without a dedicated team of staff and volunteers — from teachers and sports coaches to photographers and managers. Andrei is one of the psychologists working at Step Up. He and his wife, Yekaterina, are particularly involved in Step Up’s work placement schemes and career-guidance programs that help introduce our students to the world of work, and aid them in their search for the professions that they want to pursue. We asked Andrei a couple of questions
Why do Step Up students need career-guidance?
If you start talking to the younger groups about 80 percent of the boys say that they want to be programmers even though they don’t understand what that really means. In class, we provide consultations and help the students understand themselves. Where do they want to end up, what direction do they need to be moving in? We try and cover all the necessary topics, while also focusing on the needs of each individual group. We try and make sure that the students can make a conscious choice about what to aim for — and what profession to choose — when they graduate.
Why are you a part of this project?
I am at the sort of age when I don’t just want to live for myself — but to give something back. I’ve got very varied experience, in both life and work. The students are always surprised to discover that I was a doctor, and also worked as a street cleaner and window-washer. They listen to my stories carefully, and draw conclusions for themselves.
When Zhenya was sixteen, he finished college and began work in a factory that makes equipment for ships. He has been a mechanic in this factory ever since. He began attending classes at Step Up in 2018. Here is his story in his own words:
“At school we were given the choice of becoming a joiner or a mechanic — that was all [young people graduating from correctional schools are routinely given a limited selection of courses they can study at college]. So, I chose mechanic.
At the factory, they know that I study at an evening school — I don’t hide it. Of course, they’re a bit nervous that I will leave early, but I need to be here [at Step Up] at 4pm. I get up at 6am, I work until 3pm and then, at 4pm, I have to be at evening school. That’s been my schedule for the last three years.
I want to finish studying and take up a different profession. In one word: I want to develop. I'd like to be able combine a career as an engineer with history... I was always interested in history.
I come to Step Up in order to study. I feel how the world around me is changing. For example, in how I socialise with people. If you have contact with intelligent people, you find out things and then you can use them in real life. At some point, I decided that this is all necessary for me.”
The 2020-2021 academic year has been one of the hardest in our history. The Step Up community is built on personal interactions — and coronavirus has meant making some difficult changes, above all moving so much online. But we have continued to grow and adapt!
Using the opportunities of distance learning, Zoom and video conferences, we reached the milestone of almost 20,0000 lessons this year (13,000 in person and 6,700 online). And our online education programme involved a record 142 students from orphanages and struggling families all over Russia — from Karelia on the border with Finland, to Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea, and towns and cities in Siberia. In total, 384 students have participated in Step Up’s educational programmes this year.
The rise in coronavirus cases in Russia the early summer meant we were obliged to cancel several planned events and move our annual graduation ceremony online. But it was still well attended!
“Looking at how you have all studied so hard, it becomes clear where our success lies,” director Olga Tikhomirova told those on the Zoom call. “And thanks to your successes we can talk about the successes of our teaches. Thank you all for working together!”
Misha grew up in a Moscow orphanage and has been studying at Step Up for more than five years. In that time, he has completed his military service in the army, advanced his education in leaps and bounds, and taken an active part in the life of Step Up, including regularly volunteering. He wants to be a lawyer. Here, Misha talks about the importance of Step Up in his life:
"As a child I was always told that I wouldn’t achieve anything, that I will not be a very positive figure. This always fired me up. I wanted to show everyone that I could achieve something. How did they know that I couldn’t do something, that I was not equal to other people? Give me a chance, put me behind a desk, and I’ll show everyone what I can do.
For me, studying at Step Up was a challenge. It was a chance to see what I was made of: what I was capable of, what I could do myself without any help. Step Up is anopportunity. An opportunity to open up something deep inside you, something you haven’t notice before and that may have been asleep. Step Up is that needle to prick you into action.
I remember one story from the beginning of the year when I had only recently started coming to Step Up. I was very active and occasionally rude. I remember how I made a bad joke and offended one of my classmates. After that, Olga Vladimirovna took me aside and said that if something happens to the person I offended than it is me who will be responsible. That took me down a peg or two. Firstly, I had never seen Olga Vladimirovna like that before and, secondly, I was scared my words could actually have an effect. I was ashamed, and skipped class for three days. And then I turned up again and apologised. Now, I try and think before I speak.
At Step Up, I have learnt how to love and understand the people with whom I interact. In the five years I have studied at Step Up, I’ve become a much more sincere person."
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