A couple of weeks ago, school began once again in Moldova. Moldovan schools traditionally start on September 1st, and this year was no different (at least in my village- some districts decided to start the following Monday instead). The first day of school is a big event here, and is called First Bell.
The day starts off with all of the students gathering outside the front of the school in the courtyard, along with parents and teachers. For the first grade students, this is their very first day of school, and much of the celebrations focus on them. There are speeches, recitations of poems, and maybe a song or two. The 1st grade students receive their first textbook, given to them from students in the 9th grade.
Then, at the very end of the ceremony, a ninth grade boy hoists a first grade girl on his shoulders and they walk around the circle of other students as the girl rings a huge bell, signifying the start of the school year (and hence the name “First Bell”). The students enter the school and have a one hour lesson with their homeroom classes, and then everyone is free to go home!
I think it’s a very nice way to start off the school year on the right foot. I was a little nervous in the days heading up to the first day as rain was predicted (meaning all this would have to occur inside a very small assembly room), but the weather ended up being very nice!
We’re approaching the end of summer here in Moldova. Next week, along with all of my fellow M31 volunteers, I have my mid-service conference (we’re past the mid-way point of our service!). Next Friday, my sister is arriving for a week-long visit in Moldova, and the following Friday is our first day of school!
The weather has continued to be sweltering hot, but today is significantly cooler! It looks like the rest of the week will be close to or below 90 degrees Fahrenheit, which is welcome after several weeks of 95 degree plus weather (including one day that reached 104 degrees!). Today is a rainy, cool day and it feels a bit like fall. I even wore a jacket on my way to my school this morning!
As school approaches, our grant project at the school is in full swing. The walls and ceiling are in the process of being refinished and painted (they are plaster) and the floors are getting painted this week as well. Then the furniture will go in, hopefully this week or next, and we can get our new technology installed and new and old books on the shelves! I’m very excited to see it all come together! I was a little worried it wouldn’t be completed before September 1st, but it looks like it might make it!
At the same time as the school library renovations are happening, there is also a bunch of other construction going on at my school. My school was awarded a large grant (I wasn’t involved in this one) to get indoor toilets. This is quite the project, as huge trenches have to be dug outside to put in pipes for water and waste, and a sewage system has to be installed, plus the actual bathrooms have to be built and outfitted. Currently, it’s a maze to get into the school building due to all the trenches out front and to the sides. The school has been working towards this project for a long time though, so I’m excited it’s happening!
I have two more weeks left of summer vacation, but I know they will fly by. Between grant purchases and installation, summer English clubs, our mid-service conference, and my sister’s visit, I’ll be plenty busy!
This past weekend, my ninth grade students had their “Balul Absolvenţilor”, or Graduates Ball. This is a bit of a mixture between a graduation ceremony and prom. It is also the last step for the students before they are truly finished with their mandatory schooling. From my understanding, in many villages and towns these can be quite extravagant events, but because it was during the fasting period, my school’s celebration was a bit more laid back.
The students dressed up very nicely (girls in gowns, boys in collared shirt and tie/bow-tie) and their parents and teachers gathered with them in the school courtyard. The evening started with a ceremony, and the students received their diplomas and did a few performances (some singing, poem recitations, and dancing).
This was followed by a masa (meal/party) inside for everyone. Though it was supposedly a “simple” masa, it was still pretty extravagant- tons of food and drinks. After some toasts and eating, the students went outside for a dance while the adults continued to eat and drink. After everyone had plenty of time to eat, the adults were invited outside for dancing together with the students. The music was traditional and popular Moldovan music, and there were several different hora (Moldovan traditional dance) dances. After quite a while of dancing, everyone returned inside for round two of the masa and the students continued their dance outside.
The entire night was beautiful and memorable. It was also a bit bittersweet. After this summer, most of the students will go on to school or work in other towns, villages, and perhaps even countries. I won’t probably see many of them much after this. At the beginning of the year, this was a group of students that was a bit difficult. But by the end of the year, I was comfortable teaching them and was quite proud of their accomplishments. So I will miss them.
It was also bittersweet because it is one of the last big events in my village that I will experience as the only American. In August, I will be joined in my village by another wonderful volunteer, who will be teaching health at my school. Though I’m very excited to have a site mate and Amir, my new site mate, is really great, it was a little weird to realize that this is one of the last things I will experience “alone” at my site. My new site mate was visiting this weekend to check out the village and attended the first part of the night (the ceremony part) but went back to his host family’s after the ceremony (and was very kind to send me the pictures he took since I didn’t take any).
I have a feeling this will be one of my favorite memories from my time here. I had a great time and also felt a part of the community in a way I hadn’t completely felt before.
*All photos and videos by Amir F., used with permission.
Here in Moldova, June 1st is both the first day of summer vacation from school and Children’s Day, which is celebrated as a main holiday. Some towns have begun to celebrate Children’s Day on the last day of school once school has been released, but my village still celebrates it on June 1st.
It’s a day of games, singing, dancing, and free ice cream for kids! In my village, we celebrated at our park, which is fairly new (when I visited for my site visit last July, the “park” was just a wide open space, but now we have a large playground, swings, and even a small pavilion).
The day started by a performance by 2nd grade students and continued with various singing and dance performances, including some by our traditional music and dance school.
The last performance was by a group of graduating 9th grade students, who performed the same dance they did on the last day of school.
After the scheduled performances, there was an open mic competition for poetry and singing, as well as a chalk drawing competition. These were judged by teachers from our school and there were several winners in each category, all of whom received some small prizes (balls, notebooks, drawing pads, and pens).
It was a beautiful day and most of the activities were set up in the shade. I really enjoyed the day and it was nice to see everyone enjoying the celebrations.
Today marked the last day of school, which is known in Moldova as Ultimul Sunet or Last Bell. Since my village’s school only goes up to 9th grade, this was also a bit of a farewell and best wishes to our 9th grade students.
Last Bell is a ceremony, generally held outside on the school’s courtyard, and is celebrated at every school in the country. Students, teachers, and families all attend. At my school, the graduates (9th graders) entered once everyone else was in place and wore sashes to signify the importance of the day. Then, certificates were handed out to the students who had significant achievements throughout the school year in academics, sports, and extracurriculars. After, some poems were presented by the 4th graders and 9th graders and the 9th graders thanked all of the teachers for their work that year (I got a special shout-out!) and handed out flowers to the teachers. I came home with a pile of flowers so big I had to use two large vases to contain them.
The 9th grade students performed a beautiful dance, along with their two homeroom teachers. They also danced the hora (Moldova’s traditional dance).
After, the ceremony ended with a 9th grade boy and 1st grade girl walking around the perimeter while the girl rang a large metal bell, and students were released into their homeroom classrooms for one last class period.
My partner teacher had to leave to go to the local kindergarten for a celebration there, so I got to be her homeroom class’s diriginte (homeroom teacher) for an hour. This last class period consists primarily of the teacher reading off the final semester and year grades for each subject for each student, as students do not receive report cards here. I’m glad I know my numbers pretty well! Finally, we were all free to go and the school year was officially over.
While I am ready for summer and vacation, it’s a little surreal to know that my first year of teaching in Moldova has come to an end. I will miss my 9th grade students, who I’ve gotten to know pretty well over the course of the year. It was a year full of many challenges and also many rewards. My students, partners, and fellow teachers welcomed me with open arms and I am so grateful to them for such an amazing first year here in Moldova.