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Remember Your First Day of School?

  • Published
  • By Capt Martha L. Petersante
  • 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
You don't get flowers everyday when you're deployed, in fact, you probably don't receive them at all. On Saturday, I did and it was pretty cool. No, it wasn't from my family and loved ones back home for a birthday or other event. They were from an 8-year-old girl whom I've never met before.

Flowers, I learned, are a traditional gift for teachers and honored guests during the First Bell ceremonies on the first day of school. As I sat and watched the ceremony at the Birdik School near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on Sept. 1, I couldn't help but think back to the way Americans mark the first day of school. Typically, a week or so leading up, it's time to go shopping for school supplies and new clothes, maybe your mom or dad drops you off at your new school or you ride the "big yellow bus" for the first time. Here, it truly was a celebration for the kids to return to school.

The children lined up in freshly pressed uniforms, excited to see their friends and teachers; seemingly genuinely excited to begin learning after the summer break. One of the most impressive aspects of the celebration was how the older students took the new students under their wing--offering guidance on how to succeed in school and motivating the younger students to strive for academic greatness. The senior students passed out balloons and guided the new pupils into their classrooms, a symbolic passing of the academic baton to the younger generation.

So as the youngest student was hoisted aloft on the shoulders of the most senior student , together, they walked around the school's open courtyard, ringing a bell symbolizing the start of the school year, I looked around to see the smiling faces of parents, teachers and students alike.

This passion for learning and educating crossed language barriers and this was no more evident than when the school's Principal Olga Voroshikhina, spoke to her pupils; she charged them to excel and welcomed them to a new academic year.

When we toured the remodeled school, she smiled and the pride in the facility, faculty, and her students, was evident. (The Transit Center at Manas' Theater Security Cooperation division sponsored the humanitarian assistance project, which was completed in 2009.) Voroshikhina explained she had been a student here many years ago and has literally come full-circle, serving as the school's principal for the past 3 years. When asked about her students, this 20-year educator raves about them and their capabilities but ask her about herself and she is quick to change the subject back to her passion and work - taking care of her students.

As the rest of the Airmen from the Transit Center and I sat and watched the joyous ceremonies, the Transit Center Director Col. Corey Martin spoke about partnership between the U.S. and Kyrgyz Republic. I couldn't help but think how amazing this entire day was. I felt honored to be part of their first day of school and this is something special that I will probably always remember about my deployment to Kyrgyzstan.