Though only there for a short time, Karina Kalinina can still recall the rigid strictness of her suburban Moscow school when she was in the first grade.
The Revere High School (RHS) valedictorian remembers penmanship was taught with fervor, and how one small mistake could lead to a major penalty.
“Penmanship was stressed there and its very extreme in Russian schools,” she recalled. “I remember that I misspelled a word and used white out to correct it and ended up getting 4 out of 5 for that. It was very harsh. I wouldn’t have been a valedictorian there.”
Maybe not, but what Kalinina has become in Revere is perhaps much better – a focused student who thinks for herself, has endless academic interests and is headed next fall to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Kalinina came to America from Russia when she was 8, in 2004. The family came not for economic reasons, but rather to experience more of a democratic country and to allow their children better access to educational opportunities. Her father had been a biophysicist in Russia and, earlier, had been a scientist in the military. Once here, he began to work as a translator of technical documents for American companies. First, they were in California for four years, and then they moved to Texas for two years.
Finally, her parents, Boris Kalinin and Olga Kalinina, moved to True Street – just a short walk from RHS – when Karina was starting her freshman year.
It was a move that was also to provide better access to education.
“I think the primary motivation in moving to Revere is that the Boston area has so many top universities here,” she said. “I think it was very, very much for me to be able to go to some of the top universities like MIT…America is well known for its universities.”
And getting to one of those universities seemed to be the top order of business for Kalinina, who thrived at RHS, whether starring on the Debate Team or tackling Advanced Placement Calculus or even just learning to think for herself.
That was very different than Russian schools, she said.
“There is a real focus on memorization; many people sometimes say in Russian schools you wouldn’t be encouraged to think on your own or to interpret information, but rather to spit out information you read in a textbook,” she said. “If you had question on something, you would be encouraged to say what the textbook says and not what your own ideas are on the subject.”
That sort of learning is something that Kalinina took a complete turn away from, aided by the Debate Team and RHS Teacher Mark Fellowes.
“Mr. Fellowes often says that it’s important to allow students to think on their own and have their own ideas,” she said. “Even things I don’t have a strong interest in, like history, I’ve been able to develop my own ideas as to why things happened in history. That’s been very important to my development as a person.”
What did interest Kalinina at RHS was a Calculus class taught by Cheryl Szymanski.
Through her interest in math, and her lifelong curiosity in biology, Kalinina developed a desire to research artificial intelligence and neuroscience – particularly the brain.
“Now I realize science has clear objectives for me in the future because with science and math you can describe the world,” she said. “I am interested in biology because I want to know more about the human brain. It’s an area we haven’t explored fully. Physics is interesting to me because I like mathematics.”
And thanks to her hard work, the 18-year-old will get to pursue those studies in Cambridge at MIT – something she thought she had missed out on.
“I couldn’t believe it at first when I got the e-mail,” she said. “It was March 14. I applied early there and didn’t get in. I thought I wasn’t going to get in, but I did.”
Kalinina will graduate at the top of her class this Thursday, June 5, at Suffolk Downs. She is the daughter of Boris and Olga Kalinin. She has one brother, Dmitriy, 23, and a younger sister, Viktorya, 11 – who is at the Lincoln School and will attend the Rumney Marsh Academy next year.