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Graves: Back-to-school makes me feel like a kid on Christmas

I feel about a new school year in a manner analogous to Christmas. I am all but bursting with joy at the thought of a new school year, of that first day which inaugurates it.

Joe Graves
Joe Graves
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When I was a little boy, growing up on the east side of Sioux Falls on Holt Avenue, to be specific, life was, well, good. I’m sure I whined about all sorts of things back then but even a small amount of reflection brings me to the inescapable conclusion that I had very little to whine about. Life was easy. Life was good. Life was filled with joys.

One of those joys came after Thanksgiving. Christmas season. (Yes, I know it was actually Advent but try telling that to a 7-year-old boy watching the annual broadcast of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer with his nose pressed up against the television screen.)

Christmas was a wonderful, happy time of year for any number of reasons but in particular because it was ushered in with all sorts of introductions, anticipatory joys, landmarks not just leading up to it but also occasions of bliss in and of themselves. It was as if you were given little parties, little presents, the whole month leading up to your birthday. And only one of them was the advent calendar with the chocolate behind the flap from December 1 to December 25. Only one!

I feel about a new school year in a manner analogous to Christmas. I am all but bursting with joy at the thought of a new school year, of that first day which inaugurates it. (Which is today, of course, a blessed start to a much-anticipated year.)

And like Christmas, as seen from the perspective of a small boy, a new school year, as seen from the perspective of a school superintendent, also has any number of smaller, anticipatory occasions of joy leading up to it.

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There is the day I sent out the letter to new faculty, inviting them to their longer pre-service days and the one soon after to the returning faculty to their 3-day professional development extravaganza. (OK, ‘extravaganza’ might be pushing it but there are donuts.) Then come the registration days at Mitchell High School and Mitchell Middle School.

A simple walk through the hallways sees scores of students greeting one another, no longer bereft from their isolation from so many of their peers. Elementary open houses follow anon as the smaller set meet their teachers and explore the classrooms they will inhabit for the coming school year.

And the excitement builds.

Then, once the pre-school-year gatherings are over and the staff have swilled the last dregs of training or engaged in the last preparations in order to be ready for the new school year (just like the vast Christmas preparations—baking, wrapping, decorating, and spiritual planning), something interesting happens. We take two days off. Our school year begins on a Wednesday but there are no (or almost no) official activities held on the preceding Monday and Tuesday.

Teachers and staff and building principals can use this time to do whatever they wish, whatever best prepares them for a new school year. For some, it is a last-minute mini-vacation or outing.

Others, never satisfied with what they have accomplished thus far, pore over curriculum, prepare even more elaborate lesson plans, add that final bit of panache to their classroom. Others, I imagine, sleep in, though with the academic equivalent of sugar plums dancing in my head, slumber would certainly escape me.

For very soon would arise such a clatter--school buses roaring to life, AC units battling the dog days of what is no longer summer, ovens rattling open and closed in school kitchens, students re-engaging friendships no longer in estivation, school bells hearkening to all who will hear--that who could possibly rest?

Then, on this day, the first day of school arrives, the endpoint, the culmination of so many happy precursors.

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So, is the first day of school as important as Christmas Day? No. It is analogous not an equivalency.

But it is so very sweet, nonetheless.

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