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English \ Culture \ Ukrainian school teaches students about their past

By Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki, Freee Press Education Writer
ANDRE J. JACKSON, Detroit Free Press

At Immaculate Conception Ukrainian Catholic School in Warren, eighth-grader Liliya Kulyk, 14, and others read over a presentation in language class March 10. The feeling of community and focus on academics and faith draw families from across metro Detroit.

Many of the parents of students at Immaculate Conception Ukrainian Catholic School in Warren are generations removed from Ukraine, but they want their children to know the language, customs and history of their ancestors.

Ukrainian clothing and flags hang in classrooms. A display case shows intricately painted eggs that evoke the gilded Fabergé versions. In a chapel, a small group of students wait, heads bowed, for confession.

Immaculate Conception is, in fact, the only Ukrainian school left in the state and one of only a handful in the country.

The students come from around metro Detroit. Among themselves, they tend to speak a combination of English and Ukrainian that they've dubbed "half na pive."

"Na pive" means "half" in Ukrainian. They may say, for example, "I forgot my kynzchka," or book.

The students are proud of their heritage. "It makes me feel really good to know where I come from," said eighth-grader Catherine Dudun, 13, of Troy. "It gives me peace of mind."

The school was originally founded in Hamtramck in 1936. As people moved away from the city, a Ukrainian cultural center sprouted near 11 Mile and Ryan in Warren, with a Ukrainian church, museum, credit union and retirement home.

The elementary school moved in 1983 to the current campus in Warren. The high school continued in Hamtramck until last year, when the poor economy forced its closure. That left the Warren location the only school in the state where students studied Ukrainian culture and history alongside state-mandated subjects.

"Every family is very tight," said Olga Novatchinski, who teaches the advanced Ukrainian students. Plus, they believe they can contribute their culture to the fabric of the American culture, she said.

About 20% of the students are not Ukrainian. Their parents were drawn to the school being close-knit, with a strong, traditional Catholic bent.

"It's a small school atmosphere that's strong in academics, but also in morals," said Janet Biondo of Sterling Heights, whose son, Andrew, 9, attends the school.

Eventually, the students will separate into different high schools, but some plan to stay close. Many will study Ukrainian on Saturdays and attend the same camp in the summers.

"It's a part of me," said Larissa Woryk, 13, of Sterling Heights. "Without it, there's something missing."
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