Italy – Traditions on the first day of school

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 -Welcome to school –

     Today September 10th 2012, in many cities and towns in Italy, is the first day of school.  Traditions on one of the two most important days of the school year, the other being the day in which school ends, vary from country to country.  Here in Italy those traditions vary even from town to town and from region to region.

     I have always found my American friends to be very surprised at the fact that kids attending elementary school here in the boot, have to wear a smock, like a work coat (yep, it is work for our little ones), blue for the boys and white or pink for the girls. Not only do they have to wear a smock, but they must also wear a ribbon on it, of a color that indicates the grade of the student.  The colors are usually red (1st grade), pink (2nd grade), blue (3rd grade), green (4th grade) and the Italian colored ribbon (for 5th grade).  These colors might be switched around from town to town or city to city, but the meaning of the colors is pretty much the same, they let everyone know the grade of attendance of each little one.

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     So as you can see, Italian primary school students start off their first day by showing off all the new and latest trends in smocks (or as they call them in Italian “grembiuli”), from “Hello Kitty” to their favorite Soccer team for the boys.  In the end, in my humble opinion, it is always about the money.  The first impact with the world that children have, is wether or not their parents can afford to buy them the brand names in “grembiuli”, if not, well there you have the first cut off.  As you know kids can be quite curel at that age.  What started off as a way of making all the children feel the same, has ended up through the years, being what makes kids different from one another.  Yet, every year many families rush to stores to buy new smocks, even though the old ones are just as good.  It is just mind bogling at times, the concern that Italians have for being in fashion, even at the cost of being poor they must look trendy!

     The second most important tradition on the first day of school is the “new” backpack.  If you have kids, and they do not have lockers in their schools, you will have surely experienced the need of purchasing them a backpack and here in Italy like with everything else, it is a fashion statement, to have the big brand name or the big designs.  How expensive can they get? Well, consider that the cheapest may range anywhere from around 50€ about 63$, to the most expensive well over 100€ about 127$.  Now you all know how kids are, they never want to be the ones not to go to school on their first day wearing nothing but the best, but when you are out of job for three months of the year, maybe four and still waiting on your unemployment check, making your kids happy isn’t the easiest of things to do.  What will you do?

     Last but not least, the last tradition that Italian students have regarding their first day, is the so-called “diary”, “il diario”, which has nothing to do with the diary kids write about their growing pains, far from that, it is an agenda that all Italian students buy every year so to be able to take note of all the homework they have on a daily basis.  Now, why would an agenda be so important? Well, just like anything else, certain agendas are cool and others aren’t. Therefore starting from the early days of July, you have a rush to the newstands to get yourself the most fashionable and coolest agenda ever, so that your classmates can awe in admiration, for you are a “cool one” in having managed to buy yourself that specific agenda.  Do not think that they are cheap either, they can even cost up to 40 or 50€ (about 60$).

     So what is the point of this shopping list?  The point is that in a country where the economic crisis is hitting hard, families are pushed by an inadequate school system, to spend anywhere from 200 – 300€ (about 255-383$) just for a smock, a backpack and a diary.  Can you believe that? I find it absurd personally.  Let’s not even talk about the costs of text books, that families are forced to buy from middle school on, all the way to college. That will surely be a following post.

     Personally, I’d prefer that kids be allowed to wear what they basically feel comfortable in wearing (hopefully with some approval from the parents) in a school environment (even though you’ll always have the fashion statement, no matter what); also why not have lockers installed in all schools here in Italy as well? Not only to prevent a race to the backpack, but also and mostly to prevent our children from having back problems at such an early age. I was outraged last year at the weight my kids had to carry on their shoulders every day when entering school.  The fact is that most elementary schools here, especially in the South, are still trapped in a time warp and can’t manage to get out of it for the welfare of the kids.

     So what may seem from the outside a very nice tradition, from the inside I can assure you it isn’t. It is just another example of how school systems work differently all around the globe. Not to say that it is all negative, I am sure at the beginning of it all, it was a great idea, but today in the 21st century do we still need to do all this, just to send our kids to school? Is that what makes the difference in a good education? Well, it must be.  Things here are really hard to change and change is definitely not an easy thing to do.

     And with this final thought, I would like to wish all students a great first day of school.

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