From Russia with love: 4th graders help each other out — in Spanish and Russian

HARLINGEN — Last year, America Hernandez didn’t have a lot to say in English.

Then along came Vladislava Milova.

“She helps me with English and I help her with her Spanish,” said America.

The two fourth graders were sitting in the sunlit patio at Wilson Elementary talking about their friendship. Although America speaks Spanish at her home and Vladislava, or “Vlada,” speaks Russian and English with her parents, Simon and Olesia, they’ve managed to develop a tight friendship since last year.

That’s when teachers paired them together as part of the school’s dual language program.

“I remember she didn’t really know how to read words in English, like varieties,” said Vlada, blonde hair glistening in the late October sun.

“She didn’t know what it meant,” Vlada said. “I told her it meant differences.”

America smiled as she remembered how her new friend, whose family hails from a small town in Russia called Lugansk, helped her. She also recalled with joy being able to return the favor with her native Spanish.

“She didn’t understand some words and I translated for her,” she said.

“Like outside,” Vlada said with a nod.

“Afuera,” America added.

While Vlada’s family comes from Russia — her father Simon is an ear, nose and throat specialist — she was born in St. Louis, Missouri. The family moved to the Valley in 2011 but Vlada only began attending Wilson two years ago. Her two younger sisters, Alexandra and Elizaveta, also attend Wilson.

When Vlada first arrived at Wilson, she didn’t know anyone.

In stepped America to take care of that.

“She showed me around,” she said with appreciation. “She sat by me at lunch.”

“I introduced her to everyone,” America said.

Vlada’s strong artistic and intellectual energies have not gone unnoticed. At the October school board meeting schoolchildren stood and recited the Red Ribbon Week pledge in English and Spanish. Vlada recited it in Russian.

She’s earned the respect and even admiration of all her teachers.

“She’s very successful in all her studies,” said Principal Kristi David. “Her work ethic is very important. Her interest in learning is refreshing. She’s very, very humble and she encourages others to do their homework. She said, ‘You should read more books.’”

Vlada herself is not only well read but well traveled. She’s a talented member of the school’s chess program and has excelled at competitions. This summer when she and her sisters traveled with their grandmothers to Russia she grabbed people’s attention at a chess tournament.

She reflected on the differences between Russia and the United States.

“In Russia I saw that people are usually walking, not driving,” she said. “People walk everywhere. It’s very different. The shop keepers are out.”

She also reveals a passion for the piano and she’s had both Russian and American teachers.

“I like any music,” she said. “I usually get the beat of any song.”

She also gets the beat of the swimming strokes having taken the school district’s swimming lessons offered to second graders at the Aquatics Center.

Sitting now with her friend America by her side she spoke at random now about her various interests and strengths and where they may take her.

“I like reading and math,” she said. “I study Spanish a lot.”

With roots in both the U.S. and Russia, where would she like to stay?

“I plan to stay here,” she said. “I want to be a doctor.”