Make new friends, but keep the old,
One is silver and the other’s gold.
A circle’s round; it has no end,
That’s how long you’re going to be my friend.
Kindergarteners and parents circled the summer garden, hands joined and singing. As we circled, the teachers tapped shoulders, and motioned for some to join them outside the circle. We joined their chain, and coiled along behind. As the last repetition drew to a close, the feet stopped. Two circles had formed. The inner circle held the younger children, now the “big kindergarteners,” who would remain in the sunlit rooms for another year, mentoring the 41/2 year olds who will seem so small in September. The outer circle was formed by the children and parents who were moving on – to first grade, or to other schools. Their year had come full circle.
“Good-bye, Sierra. Good-bye, Sierra. Good-bye, Sierra. It’s time to say good-bye.” The children sang and laughed, as one-by-one their friends were summoned to the teachers with their ritual dismissal song. One-by-one, they hugged Teacher Karina and Teacher Kelly, accepted their small gifts and returned to the circle. One-by-one, Little Ones (don’t call them dolls), the treasured small friends of the kindergarten, were placed in pouches, and also dismissed by name. The Little Ones who had come for the first-years will return to Little-Land to spend the summer with Fairy Mother. However, for the older children, their Little Ones will accompany them home, to support them in their new adventures. Petal, Sierra’s Little One, had already gotten a head start on summer break and , like Stevenson’s “lazy little shadow,” “ had stayed at home behind [her] and was fast asleep in bed.”
Nearly two years ago, Sierra was the smallest and youngest member of the Climbing Rose kindergarten. Barely 41/2, she squeaked into the age cut-off. A brand new kindergartener with a brand new teacher. Yesterday, I cried as she walked with deceptive demureness toward her teachers then took a flying leap, anchoring herself to Karina’s lap. My last kindergartener is now a first-grader, and her teacher, the teacher who has nurtured her with humor, discipline, and boundless love will be moving on to her own blessings. Teacher Karina and Teacher Kelly will remain part of our circle, friends of gold, but Sierra has moved to the outer circle, on to the grades, to a teacher as yet unknown.
In September, first graders are welcomed into the grades, the heart of the Waldorf curriculum, with the “rose ceremony.” As they are greeted by the teacher who will carry them through the lower grades, each child is presented with a red rose by his or her “eighth-grade” buddy. The eighth-graders, many of whom are Waldorf ‘lifers,’ will partner with their first graders throughout the year, leading by example, showing them the ways of the school, and giving them someone ‘cool’ to admire. And, at the end of the year, the circle of the rose will be completed.
“That’s Bay’s class. And Curtis’s class.” Sierra, sitting on my thigh (and incidentally squashing my sciatic against the wood seat of the too-short chair), whispered as the seventh-grade recited their verse. Something caught in my chest as they were dismissed, to “sit down as eighth graders.”
I feel my destiny
My destiny finds me
I feel my star
My star finds me
I feel my goals in life
My goals in life are finding me
My soul and the great world are one
The sixth-grade’s song was familiar from their class play; their teacher had set to music one of Rudolph Steiner’s verses. Yet, familiarity doesn’t prevent tears. Sierra’s hair got very wet as I watched her sister’s class, suddenly no longer round-cheeked children, sing with the mingled poise and acute self-consciousness of adolescence and “sit down as seventh graders.” It’s coming, the end of that circle, more quickly than I could wish.
“Zoe’s class!” No, Sierra doesn’t have a sibling in fifth grade. Her brother has a classmate with a sister in fifth (now sixth.) But it went this way through the grades. As the now fifth grade stood for the last time as fourth graders, Sierra proclaimed, “Tyson’s class. Oh, and Nicole. And Carpenter. I know lots of people in that class." By the time she said, “Aid-y’s class!” I was starting to get it. The circle is a spiral, or maybe a Mobius strip. The close of her time in kindergarten isn’t kicking my child into an unknown world. She is joining a larger circle, a circle in which she already sees herself as a link. “I know everybody,” she said. Not everybody, but she has found connections to each of the grades, and in doing so, has begun to picture herself in their place. In the rhythm of the curriculum, the children find both predictability and adventure. Last night, as we lingered around a picnic table with two other families, Caitlin explained her hatred of cauliflower, stemming oddly from a fifth grade botany lesson. Tyson, the now-fifth-grade brother of one of Aidan’s best friends, broke his customary quiet to say, “I’m studying botany next year!” They make the connections, find the links, and draw upon each other to move from one point in the circle to the next.
Sierra’s hair was soaked by the time my son and his friends – when did they all get so tall and sturdy looking?—sat down “as fourth graders.” They had completed their verse and song (in Hebrew!) with word and note perfection. And with grins and a surreptitious fist-pump or two, that class owned their new role. They know exactly who and what they are. Uncertainty and self-consciousness will come to them in a year or two as adolescence begins to shine its spotlight, but for now, they are nine years old and invincible.
“That’s Joey’s brother,” Sierra pointed at one of the eighth graders – the brother of one of Caitlin’s classmates and son of Caitlin’s teacher. Each member of the graduating class was called up by full name. Their years in the school were announced. From the lifer with ten years behind her to Ricky (Joey’s brother) who joined the school this year, each has made his or her mark upon the school and has earned the right to stand before their younger peers as testament to the completion of the cycle.
And, then, the first graders were asked to join their buddies. Sierra remained silent as the class she knows best – many of whom were the ‘big’ kindergarteners when she started school, and with whom she played and laughed – stepped forward to stand before their eighth graders. I wish I had the words to the verse that the first-graders recited, but it began something like this: “When we were much smaller and you seemed so much taller…” The first grade told in verse the tale of their year, from their first moments in that September rose ceremony. And as they finished, each first grader turned and presented an eighth grader with a red rose.
Scarlet roses clutched in their chubby hands, first graders enter their classroom for the first time beneath an arch of flowers held aloft by their parents. They process beneath the stems and petals, are greeted with a handshake by their new teacher, and enter the classroom of chalk and wonder for the first time.
Scarlet roses clutched in elegant and strong hands – hands that have learned to knit, to cook, to play recorder and string; hands that have drawn runes and written of the fall of Rome; hands that have joined in song, and dance – eighth graders depart their school beneath an arch of sunflowers lifted to a (finally!) summer sky by teachers and parents who must now stretch to raise the stems above the teenaged heads. They bid farewell with a handshake to their first graders and to the school as they leave for a world of new wonders.
Sierra was quiet as she watched her friends hand their roses to their buddies. “Next year, that will be you; are you ready?” I whispered. She shook her head.
As I pulled the covers to her chin last night, Sierra asked, “Will I get a rose tomorrow?”
“No, not tomorrow. In September. In three months.”
“I’m ready, Mommy.”
“I know you are.”
In September, Mike and I will watch as Sierra receives her rose and greets her teacher for the first time. She doesn’t know who her “buddy” will be, but it’s a good bet that that eighth-grader will be known to her. As spring morphs to summer, she will return that rose to the one who has shown her the way. And, in that following fall, Caitlin will offer a rose to a child who seems impossibly small. And the circle will continue.