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Barbara Liston

Assistant Head of School
Barb Liston, Assistant Head of School
Education:  Princeton University B.A.; Harvard University, Ed.M.
ext:  6208

     [Brookwood VOICES blog post by Barb Liston]
     This week will mark either the 57th or 58th FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL (FDOS) for me – a number that includes my days as a student; the fact that I can’t figure out whether it’s 57 or 58 is no doubt a reflection of the longevity suggested by the number.
     But here’s the thing: It NEVER gets old. Every First Day of School is a beginning, one with far more import than the difference between December 31 and January 1.  It signifies an opening, a fresh start – rife with possibility and, of course, some potential for pitfalls along the way. I defy you to find a student or teacher who sleeps a wink the night before this momentous occasion!
     In the early elementary years, the imminence of the FDOS brings with it jaunts exciting in themselves: Buying new clothes (or trying on hand-me-downs!), picking out new shoes, or the simple pleasure of organizing shiny new supplies – book bags, binders, clean notebooks of white paper, and the favored pens and pencils. The youngest among us are literally vibrating with excitement as they meet their teachers and very quickly make new pals; they are entirely “in the moment,” and it’s a gleeful thing to watch.
     If I recall correctly and my young sources are telling the truth, the emotions get a little more mixed as one progresses through the middle and upper grades. Of course, there is a bit chest puffing over the placement in a higher grade, and the shoe and supply shopping are still fun. Kids are always excited to see their friends and kibitz about their summers, but the questions multiply: Who will be in my classes?; Will I like my advisor?; How hard will it be this year? And for the oldest matriculates, there is often a tinge of that adolescent dread of returning to daily early rising …
     I think too that there is a bit of Proust at work on the FDOS. In Remembrance of Things Past (now apparently called In Search of Lost Time), the taste of a madeleine dipped in tea brings to the adult narrator a rush of involuntary memory and resurrects the past.  So it is with the sensory impact of the FDOS.  Wouldn’t the smell of fresh mimeograph ink bring a rush of memories back to you? Or shiny, freshly waxed floors? The flapping sound of the world map when it spontaneously rerolls itself? I used to love the clean blackboards (now they are white and the markers smell a little like the old mimeograph ink!) with the September date written in perfect cursive in the top right corner and the slightly musty smell of the cardboard boxes full of books to be distributed. This First Day of School will be no different; our kids will absorb smells and sights and sounds that they will never entirely forget.
     For teachers, the FDOS carries many of the same butterflies and questions as it does for the kids, but it is invariably an occasion of great joy. While the noise and unceasing negotiating with small fry may have grown weary-making by June, in September, the sweet new faces and timid smiles, the hugs and high fives from past charges, the face-splitting grins as friends reunite, everyone talking at once … Truly glorious mayhem. It is primarily the love of kids, not courses, that motivates those of us who teach the 4 to 14 crowd, and we relish their return. For us, the First Day also signifies a fresh start, new hopes and dreams – this is OUR January 1.
     Fall is definitely a poignant time of year. The leaves fall and the days shorten, and we experience it all as a kind of loss, I think. BUT it also brings the First Day of School, an open invitation to revel in childhood, to dream of possibility, and to . . . begin again.  Bring it on!
      – Barb Liston
Assistant Head of School

Ms. Liston greets students on the first day of school.