DAY OF KNOWLEDGE (День знаний)

September 1 is Day of Knowledge in Russia. It is the day when all schools start in Russia. This is quite different from schools in my “other” world of America. The first day of school is set by each county, so not even every school in the state starts the same day—certainly not every school in the country! The first day here in Russia is more ceremony than actual academic work. We had to prepare for the day, of course. We had to make sure Gabriel has a new uniform that fits. The school he goes to is not really a “stickler” on the uniform, but schools here still require them. Then, most importantly, flowers much be purchased for the homeroom teacher. This is a long standing tradition. All Russian school children take flowers to their teacher on Day of Knowledge. It may sound quaint, but seeing all these children dressed up (Gabe had on his favorite bow-tie) carrying flowers to give to the teacher seems appropriate to me now. So Oksana went two days prior to our nearby florist to get her order in. The lady told her she would be getting a fresh load Thursday evening, so if Oksana could come by then she would prepare a really nice arrangement. She said around 8:00 would be good, but it wasn’t really important because they would be open all night preparing for the big day. I cannot imagine being a florist near Day of Knowledge! We also purchased two balloons filled with helium for the ceremony.

The preparations in our house went fairly smoothly. The uniform looked good on him, and the flowers were beautiful. We bought a very large arrangement which cost $20. So we got a taxi ordered for 9:15 to transport us to the school. We were told to arrive at 9:30, and the ceremony would begin at 10:00. So the four of us set out for School #5 on time. Schools here do not have the names like in America. Here they start with one and go through the numbers for however many schools there are in town. I think we have six schools here. Also, the schools go from first grade all the way through high school at one physical location. In South Carolina, they went to elementary school, then a separate middle school in another place, and then high school was also in a different location. Here it is like it was when I went to school (many years ago) in a rural school in South Carolina. Generally speaking city schools then had separate locations for the different ages, but in the smaller towns or rural communities they were at the same location. Here in Russia there is a lot of emphasis on the older children watching out for the younger ones.

Upon arrival folks were milling around until time for the students to go inside to see their room and teacher. This is not very confusing because in elementary school in Russia the children keep the same teacher every year. They also stay with the same class. Of course, new kids move in and some move away, but for the most part the same students move through the grade system with the same teacher and classmates. We are glad for this because we believe it is helpful to Gabriel. Last year we had so much anxiety over him moving from an American school to a Russian school, but it went far more smoothly than we imagined. His Russian language is still not up to the level of the other children, however, and he really came to love his teacher here. They formed a special bond, so there was no anxiety on his part (or ours) because we all knew he was going back to a familiar classroom, teacher, and classmates. In America, of course, it is a different teacher for every grade. Also, Gabriel would be with some friends from the previous year and some would end up in a different class. I suppose there are advantages to both ways of doing things. I don’t know which I’d consider superior in general, but the fact that Gabriel had so much more stability this year was definitely better for us.

The ceremony lasted less than 30 minutes. There are short talks by some teachers and administrators welcoming everyone. Then there are short skits by some students, mostly the younger ones. There was quite a crowd there so I really could not see very well, but they all were dressed in cute little outfits coming in. Overall it is a very positive festive atmosphere with students, teachers, and the parents and grandparents who can come together for the official beginning of the school year.

I have been asked about our choice for public education by some parents thinking of moving to Russia. So I’ll give some background on our decision. When we moved here we were, as I said, quite anxious about our boys’ adjustments to school. In America we left when the “transgender controversy” was heating up. We did not know how widespread the debate would become, but we saw videos of even young children being taught about sexual identity in public schools. Schools have a right to teach what they want in America whether the parents agree or not. My own experience was that some schools there are very sensitive to parents’ concerns, and some are not. Further, some parents obviously like the introduction of, say, gender identity issues (among other things), and other parents are horrified. We liked the schools our children attended in South Carolina. Still, we feared at the higher levels education was becoming more about social experimentation than education. I can’t say if our fears were well founded or not. I was concerned when I researched the decline in standardized tests in America compared to other countries. We have family and friends who participate in the Classical Education “movement,” and the academic performances of their children are amazing. Further, the parents are comfortable because the “social experimentation” facet is not present.

Here in Russia those things are not issues that families face. Schools are about education and, to some degree, patriotism. We have also been impressed by their concern for the social development of our children. On the other hand, there are not as many opportunities for private education in small towns in Russia. We are friends with one family who home schools their children here. I also have seen others on FB who live in Moscow who send their children to an Orthodox Christian School. If there had been one here, we perhaps would have chosen that option. It seems the Orthodox schools are more available for those living in larger cities. The primary reason we decided not to homeschool is because Oksana knows the system and the teachers here very well. Her mom has worked in education in Luga for years. It is a very stable system. Gabriel’s teacher also taught Oksana. I met her high school Physical Education teacher today who told me he planned on teaching Gabriel, then pointed to Marina Grace in her stroller and smiled and said, “Her too. Then I can retire.” It also has a good track record for academics. Students from here tend to do well at the higher levels. Also, we thought, and still believe, it was the best way for our boys to adapt to the language. Every family is different. We, however, had three children at different developmental levels when we moved here: a teenager (16), an eight year old and one not yet two. It would have been difficult to educate them at home even in English. Also, Oksana is the only one completely fluent in Russian so it would have all been “on her.”

As I left the school this morning I felt good about our decision. I believe that it is a good school, and they have made every effort to communicate with us about our children. I admit a part of it was probably that there are a lot of things they do here that remind me of the way they did things when I was a kid in America, e.g., strong discipline, focus on academics, good communication with parents. I admit my nostalgia and prejudice! I’m pleased with the academic and social development of our kids here. That means a lot to any parent. Day of Knowledge was a good experience!