Mr. Vodyanitskiiy, Sees the Beauty in Numbers

What are the odds of having an opera singer raised in Siberia on the teaching staff at Rye Middle School? Pretty good, apparently. Sixth-grade math teacher Aleksey Vodyanitskiiy, known by most as “Mr. Vod”, grew up in Novosibirsk, Siberia. 

schools-spotlight on-aleksey vodyanitskiiy teacher profile
Published January 12, 2013 5:00 AM
4 min read

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schools-spotlight on-aleksey vodyanitskiiy teacher profileWhat are the odds of having an opera singer raised in Siberia on the teaching staff at Rye Middle School? Pretty good, apparently. Sixth-grade math teacher Aleksey Vodyanitskiiy, known by most as “Mr. Vod”, grew up in Novosibirsk, Siberia. 

schools-spotlight on-aleksey vodyanitskiiy teacher profileBy Sarah Varney

 

What are the odds of having an opera singer raised in Siberia on the teaching staff at Rye Middle School? Pretty good, apparently. Sixth-grade math teacher Aleksey Vodyanitskiiy, known by most as “Mr. Vod”, grew up in Novosibirsk, Siberia.

 

Novosibirsk, the third most populous city in Russia, after Moscow and St. Petersburg, was once known as “the Chicago of Siberia” and is still a center of industry. Vodyanitskiiy had completed three years of a degree in teaching when he left in 1995, four years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Growing up, he said he spent countless hours in line for bread and for milk. “I thought it was all perfectly normal. I never realized it was so different in other places. That’s why I never take anything for granted,” he said.

 

Once the doors to the rest of the world were opened, however, it didn’t take Vodyanitskiiy long to leave his native country.

 

“When I was young and travel was not permitted, I would dream of visiting other countries. I always had a strong desire for adventure. I was 19 when I left, primarily to learn English.” He stayed with an American host family in Connecticut who heard him singing. “They pushed me to go back to university for music.”

 

He took their advice and applied to Mannes College of Music, The Hartt School at the University of Hartford, and Julliard. He was accepted at all three, but chose Hartt because they offered him a “free ride.”

 

He earned a B.A. in Opera and set out to become a professional opera singer. He performed with several small companies and opera theatres, along with the Russian Chamber Chorus of New York. But he soon decided it wasn’t for him.

 

“When you go to school, being an opera singer seems very glamorous, but then when you do it, you see that it really isn’t,” Vodyanitskiiy said.

 

It was back to graduate school for Mr. Vod. After earning an M.S. in computer science at Lehman College, he began a career as a computer programmer at a small Manhattan company. “It wasn’t right for me. I wasn’t quite satisfied sitting in an office in front of a computer and knew it wasn’t how I wanted to spend my life,” he explained.

 

A colleague at work had joined up with the New York City Teaching Fellows program and he encouraged Vodyanitskiiy to do the same. The program recruits non-teaching professionals for high-poverty city schools. Fellows teach in the mornings and attend education classes at Pace University in the afternoons. Fellows earn an M.S. in Education during the two-year program. It sounded good to Vodyanitskiiy. “Thinking about my past, I remembered that I had really loved teaching. I had always been very good at math, as well. I thought it would be wonderful to do something meaningful.”

 

For two years, he taught at P.S. 164 and then spent a year teaching at the Urban Institute of Mathematics in the Bronx. The combination of teaching and going to school at the same time was trying, he acknowledged. “Those were by far the most difficult years of my life,” said Vodyanitskiiy.

 

Three years ago, he ended up at Rye Middle School the old-fashioned way: He saw an ad in The New York Times and applied for a math teaching position.

 

Under the newly accelerated RMS math curriculum, algebra is introduced in sixth grade. Vodyanitskiiy has great empathy for kids stumped by algebra. “I started taking algebra in fourth or fifth grade in Siberia and I can tell you that I was lost. Algebra is like a language and as with any language, the earlier you start, the easier it is,” he said.

 

“I try to approach a subject in math in as many ways as possible. It seems that kids are more and more visual, so I always use visual representations to explain the underlying concepts,” he said. “I think mathematics is beautiful and I want them to see how the concepts work,” he added.

Vodyanitskiiy, who lives in Yonkers, spends much of his free time traveling. He also sings with various groups, but the gigs are irregular.

 

“I love working in Rye,” he said. “It’s a really great community.”

 

 

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