Mary Polhemus has an interesting story to tell to her peers about what she did this summer.
The Santa Monica High School student spent much of it in Moscow through a State Department program that aims to improve relations between the U.S. and Russia while providing youths with intensive ballet training.
Polhemus was one of 13 participants in the program, a joint effort of the U.S. government, the New York-based Russian American Foundation and the acclaimed Bolshoi Ballet Academy.
Known as the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, the program was launched in 2006 and “seeks to spark a lifetime interest in foreign languages and cultures among American youth,” according to a press release.
Through the initiative, high school students like Polhemus can earn merit-based scholarships to learn languages while living abroad. The program covers costs for travel, accommodations, educational activities and cultural outings, according to the release.
Polhemus, 17, and her peers were given the chance “to develop advanced linguistic skills and related cultural understanding” while building a positive international dialogue, the release reads.
Polhemus spent three weeks doing ballet in New York City before leaving for Moscow on a 6-week journey that began in July and wrapped up last month, when the 2016-17 school year began in the Santa Monica-Malibu school district.
The recent distinction is the latest honor for Polhemus, who has been active in a variety of programs throughout her childhood and time in SMMUSD.
At age 6, during her time at Edison Language Academy, the daughter of filmmaker Josiah Polhemus made her professional stage debut in the Venice-based Pacific Resident Theater production of “The Traveling Lady” by Horton Foote.
In 2011, while a student at John Adams Middle School, she won the grand prize in her age division of the annual Sustainable Santa Monica student poster contest, which drew more than 600 entries from 21 area schools.
Polhemus has also been a member of AYSO, participating on an under-12 girls soccer team that won a South Bay tournament five years ago, and Westwood Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles.
Earlier this year she attended a City Council meeting to address the governing body, which was considering action on an item about a possible sports field at the Civic Center site.
That meeting was held just weeks before Polhemus left for New York City to train in ballet through the Bolshoi Ballet Academy’s summer program, which is in its ninth year. The academy, which has been around for 240 years, is one of the oldest classical ballet training schools in the world, according to the release.
While in Moscow, Polhemus and her fellow participants studied Russian language, history, arts and culture.
The summer program was organized in part by the Russian American Foundation, which was founded in 1997 “to encourage interest in and understanding of Russian heritage among all communities in the U.S., as well as to promote reciprocal interest in American heritage among global communities of the former Soviet Union,” according to the release.