What meaning the first day of school holds for all of us—as students, teachers and parents…
As Americans living in Russia, my children and I approach the first day of school as we always have—buying new clothing and school supplies in anticipation of the new school year. We get up early that first morning, making certain to look our best. I take pictures of my daughters wearing their new backpacks and we eagerly head to school.
If we were living in America, that would be the end of it. I would either drive them to school or to the bus stop, hugging them dearly and wishing them a wonderful day. Then I’d leave. They would have a regular day of school, playing games to help them learn the names of the other students and their new teachers at the beginning of the lessons.
And that would be that.
How very different the first day of school is here in Russia! It is impossible to go anywhere within the city without noticing the festive posters and banners wishing everyone a happy “Day of Knowledge;” the fact that the first day of school is a national holiday is inescapable. I like that… The national pride in education, the collective commitment and respect for school and learning are values that even my children grasp. That’s not to say that Americans don’t have similar feelings—but how wonderful that in Russia these sentiments are overtly celebrated!
Last year my older daughter entered the first grade here at school and we will never forget our impressions of that sunny morning: all of the children in their bows and suits, their arms full of flowers; the bright balloons adorning the schoolyard and entrances; students running to hug one another after a summer apart; teachers welcoming their students with speeches and song; parents and grandparents gathering around the children for “just one more” photograph; the shy first graders and proud eleventh graders together ringing the symbolic “first bell;” parents and teachers clapping as the first graders wrote wishes on pieces of paper inside balloons and watched them fly into the sky along with their dreams…
This year the ceremonies were even more special for me. I watched my daughter reassure her friends who were new to the school, sharing all the wisdom of a wise second grader… I was greeted by all the other parents from her class who have now become friends… I saw just how much our children have grown in a year: they are more confident as both students and individuals, secure in their places in this community… I watched my daughter choose her teachers’ bouquets, wanting them to be “just right” so that they would know how much she appreciates all they have—and will—teach her… I saw how proud the eleventh graders were to play their special roles in welcoming the first graders and I looked forward to getting to know them as we will prepare for their English exams this year.
The 1st of September here is such a day of hope and joy! The ceremonies are food for everyone’s soul: the shy first graders feel welcomed and encouraged; older students feel appreciated and motivated as they are looked up to by the younger ones; parents feel supported by the school and fellow parents; and teachers are buoyed by the appreciation of the students and their families.
I hope that this holiday in Russia never changes and I feel lucky to be a part of it: both as a parent and teacher.