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Zarina Falakhova, 16
Gymnasium Number 77
Naberezhnye, Russia

Family: Zarina's mother is a doctor at the local military draft office. Her father is the director of a company that sells mineral water. She has an 11-month-old sister.

Courses: Geometry, algebra, physical education, Tatar language, Tatar literature, Russian, Russian literature, geography, English, American studies, history, physics, chemistry, psychology, biology, computing science and social studies.

School year: Sept. 1 to May 31.

Lunch: Russian students get about 20 minutes for lunch. Typical fare consists of juice, tea or cocoa, mashed potatoes, different porridges (with meatballs, sausages, chicken, fish), bread, macaroni, rice, fruit and vegetables.

Dreams of America

Zarina Falakhova dreams about one day studying in the United States. In the meantime, she's found other uses for her English. It comes in handy when she's listening to hit songs by Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez and German pop idol Sarah Connor.

In addition to English, which is required learning in Gymnasium Number 77, Zarina takes American studies and participates in the production of a teenage magazine called Online, which features information about American culture, students and education. A gymnasium is more selective than a regular Russian high school and has a curriculum focused on the humanities.

She also studies Tatar, the local language of the Republic of Tatarstan. Her hometown of Naberezhnye Chelny is the second largest city in the Republic of Tatarstan. The industrial city, approximately 600 miles east of Moscow, is known for its auto-manufacturing plant, but Zarina dreams of working abroad rather than in the Kamaz truck factory.

Zarina has planned on going to college since she was 13. She will graduate next year at the end of 11th grade after receiving the Attestat, a certificate of "completed general secondary education." Most of the 17 fellow students in her grade at the gymnasium also plan to attend college. About 28% of Russian students earn the equivalent of a bachelor's degree; more than 50% of adults have completed some form of post-secondary education, including technical and vocational.

Following a six- to seven-hour school day, Zarina works for about four to five hours each night on homework. She spends about as long studying each weekend and has access to a tutor when she needs one. "This year, I didn't practice with a tutor because I don't have exams, and I was confident. Every kid can have a tutor (at) my age," says Zarina.

Two Tracks
Russia's system steers brighter students into universities.

? Education in the Russian Federation follows a 4+5+2 system. Students attend four years of primary school, beginning at age 6 or 7, followed by five years of lower secondary school, starting at around age 10 or 11, and wrapping up by age 15 or 16.

? Education is compulsory only through the ninth grade, but about 90% of Russians go on to attend upper secondary school: A two-track system steers most brighter students into two more years of academic study before they can apply to a public university. Alternatively, students may pursue a vocational/technical track, usually two to three years long, to prepare for a bluecollar job.