Last Tuesday was Natalia's "First Bell," her first day of school as a first grader. It's a huge deal here, since September 1st is a national holiday when all schoolchildren return to the classroom. Children get dressed up, carry a new backpack, and bring bouquets for their teachers. There's a celebration outdoors for all the children and their parents, very formal and celebratory.
Aren't the bouquets beautiful? Talk about unusual... Check this one out!
Natalia was ecstatic when the big day finally arrived... She was up before 6 a.m., fully dressed before my alarm even went off! She even did her own hair and had her backpack all ready!
Here she is with her teacher:
I had to attend the opening ceremonies for the middle and high school first thing in the morning, so I met Chris and Natalia at the elementary school playground. Each class is assigned a place to stand lining the courtyard, with the first graders getting seats "of honor" up front. Natalia was a little nervous at times...
But then she relaxed and had a great time!
Look closely at the little boy next to her; he fell asleep for a little bit, landing right in his bouquet! His older brother is in Katya's class. A few of the first graders are also younger siblings of my students; it's fun to have those outside connections.
I'm sure you notice the big white hair bows in the girl next to Natalia, too... They're omnipresent around here on holidays!
After some speeches, songs and skits by faculty and returning students (Katya would have been part of all that had she not been ill), the first graders were introduced one by one. They rose and walked around the inside of the courtyard, welcomed by the whole school. It was very touching how thrilled Katya's class was to greet Natalia; they CHEERED at the top of their lungs as she strode by! She was so nervous, though, that she didn't even notice! You can see two friends from kindergarten who are now "big second graders" with ear-to-ear smiles as Natalia walked by them in this picture:
At our school, the eleventh graders (the seniors) all pair up with a first grader and escort them throughout the morning. They start off standing behind them, then they present them with the school pin. One of my English students, Max, was matched up with Natalia and her wee hight made him look even taller than he is!
The eleventh graders gave little bells to all the first graders towards the end of the ceremony, and they all then "rang the first bell" to officially begin the 2009-2010 school year. This year the little kids get to keep their bells and Natalia is thrilled! She has been using it to play school with her stuffed animals and dolls.
She also gave it to Katya, because she felt sorry that her big sister had to miss the first day of school. How sweet...
After the ceremony ended, the eleventh graders had the first graders write a wish for their first year of school on a piece of paper. They then tied the wishes to a golden star ballon, and as a group released the balloons into the sky so their dreams would come true. Natalia won't tell me what she wished for!
The eleventh graders then escorted the first graders and their parents to the school building, where they had a special first lesson to introduce to them to school. It was awfully crowded, since parents stayed, too.
After the lessons ended, the school's director beckoned for me to come over. She was worried that Natalia looked so sad, afraid that something had gone wrong. Not to worry... Natalia was only upset because the day had been too short and she wanted to stay!
I didn't have to teach until later that afternoon, so Natalia and I took our time walking home. We stopped by to visit Katya's class and made a little video of everyone wishing her well, hoping she would be healthy enough to return to school soon.
Then Natalia and I meandered home, stopping for ice cream and to admire the flowers.
Natalia is very proud of her purse and shoes!
I should add that she loves school more and more each day; it's definitely living up to her expectations. Yay!