Over the past four weeks my friends and relatives have been posting “First Day of School” photos on Facebook. And I’ve been waiting. And waiting. And waiting, so that I could do the same. Well the day finally arrived. Yesterday, September 13th, was the kids first full day of school! And I am in total awe of them. They are amazing, and I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud. I don’t know that I could wake up, get dressed, and head off to a school that is completely and totally foreign, in every way. But then again, I’m an adult, and adults don’t go with the flow as easily as children do.
On Tuesday morning we went to the school for one hour, for a blessing from the priest. All of the students were there, and most of the parents stood in the back and watched. The priest said a few prayers, and blessed each child with Holy Water. Afterwards, all of the kids went to the platia to play. I went to my Thea Avgi’s for coffee with my cousins. I had my first Greek coffee!
On Wednesday the kids went to school for a few hours to get their books. They were told to arrive at 8:15. And in the true Ikarian spirit, I was told by Elias, the teacher didn’t come into his room until 9:30! After arriving, the kids waited for a few minutes and when Kire Kosta didn’t come into the room, they went outside to play soccer. They were called back into the room at 8:5o, where they sat at their desks and waited another 40 minutes before the teacher appeared. Rea and Zach had similar stories.
Yesterday they had their first full day. They arrived at 8:15 and school began at 8:30. It is officially over at 1:30. In those 5 hours they had three breaks…two short breaks and one longer one. At 1:30 the teachers are finished, and students can leave. However, there is another teacher that stays until 4:00 to help the kids with their homework and to supervise until parents want their children sent home. I signed up to keep the kids there until 4:00, and Despinis Cee Cee will hopefully use some of that time to help Elias, Rea, and Zach improve their Greek. Yesterday the kids did their homework and then played for 2.5 hours with the other kids. When they got home they were happy. They like their teachers and they said that for the most part they were able to figure out what was going on in the classroom and what was expected of them. They said it was a good day! (Whew!)
I said that everything is foreign to them, and I mean that other than having a teacher and desks and books, everything is different. The school houses both the elementary school and the preschool. In the elementary school there are less than 30 students. That is smaller than the class sizes they had at home. There are only four students in the fifth grade. The school is a long rectangular building and each classroom has a door that opens up to the outside. There are three classes, and each is a multi-grade class with one teacher–first/second, third/fourth, and fifth/sixth. There are no hallways. No water fountains. No stairs. No nurse’s office. No morning announcements. No bus lines. No lunch room. No gym. No art or music room. And no bathrooms. Yeah, you read that right. The bathroom is outside in another building, and by American standards, some would be hard pressed to even call it a bathroom. It has Turkish Toilets. Let’s just say that most of you would be more comfortable using an outhouse or a port-a-potty.
When the kids came home yesterday, I asked them in detail about their day. Rea told me that they read a poem in school and she had to learn it, and that she did math and it was easy. Elias showed me what he did in “Language Arts.” He had two pages filled out in a notebook. There were sentences and a paragraph. I asked him what he wrote about and he said it was based on a reading they did–a piece about a boy who imagined he was out on a boat. I looked at him, and as my jaw hung open, I asked, “How did you know that–that it was about what a boy who was imagining?” He said he heard σκεφτείτε, skeptic, and figured that’s what it meant. I asked how he was able to write the paragraph, and if he used something to help him look up words. He looked at me like I was annoying him (because he wanted to get back to reading his book) and told me that he knew all of those words. And in one moment I was both proud and amazed, as well as feeling a bit inferior! He is so smart and so capable. It all comes so easily to him. I wish I could learn as quickly and easily as he does! As for Zach, he said it was fun but boring. They worked on the sound “a,” which he already knows. When he was done with his work, he made paper airplanes for all of his friends.
When I went to register the students in the school, they were unsure of where to place them because of the language barrier. Elias should be in the first year of the high school which is in the next village over; however, the course work consists of Modern Greek, Ancient Greek, Geography, Poetry, and Mathematics. They don’t teach the students how to read or to write; it is expected that they arrive there with those skills. The teachers felt it would be best for Elias to be in the top grade at the domotiko school, or elementary school, to learn the language. Kire Kosta said that he would start the kids in the school and constantly assess their abilities and move them into the lessons that suit their needs. The main goal is to learn the language. I will work with them at home in the evenings on their American schooling so that they don’t fall behind. The kids understand what will happen, and I believe Elias is happy staying in the village with his brother and sister.
I sent the kids off to school again this morning, with their backpacks and their lunches. They gave me a quick kiss and ran off to meet their friends. Coming here two months before the start of school was a wonderful decision. It gave them time to meet the other children, so that when they started their first day of school they were familiar with something! They didn’t have to worry about not knowing the kids or about being embarassed about not speaking the language well. With less than 30 kids in the school, they had already met everyone and everyone already knew they were “The Americans.”
So, off they went for another day, and I am left behind in pure awe of their courage. Children are programmed to trust their parents and believe what they are told. If their mom stands there and says, “I know it will be different, but it will be okay,” then they believe that. As adults, from our own life experiences, we have too many memories of failed attempts or uncomfortable moments that don’t allow us to be so optimistic and trusting. All I can say is that I’m so glad they came home with a smile on their faces yesterday. That buys me a little more time of them trusting me!