Pomp and Circumstance
Weather-wise, the day couldn’t have been more perfect. The hot season was right around the corner, but this Saturday morning dawned both sunny and deliciously cool. I arrived several hours before the ceremony proper was to begin, in order to get a parking space, but the grounds of my school were already overflowing. It was graduation day for my 250 Anuban students, who were winding up a three year early education program. The next time they set foot in school, they would be Pratom students, in a different building, with different uniforms, different teachers but hopefully with the same sense of innocent enthusiasm they had right at this moment.
I know what some of you are thinking. What’s the big deal about moving on from Kindergarten? What the big fuss and hoopla, complete with cap and gown and diplomas? Isn’t Kindergarten just a lot of playing with blocks, coloring and finger paint? Well that might have been the case when Sawadee was a young lad, but believe me, despite the fun and games that are still an integral part of Kindergarten, the academic aspect is pretty demanding. Even here in Thailand, which is not noted for rigorous educational standards, what 4-6 year old boys and girls must currently learn, at least at my school, is nothing to sneer at.
Not only must these children learn to read and write Thai, which believe me, is not that easy even if you grow up speaking it, but must begin to master English as well. On top of all that, they need to learn to count and do math in English as well. I don’t mean just 2 + 2 = 4. How about 39-17= 22? or 47- 13= 34? By the way I mean do this in their heads…not using paper and pencil! For most of my students, that’s a cake walk. Then of course there is Thai culture, history, art, music, and computer science. That is a full load my friends.
This has been the first year that Anuban has had a full time native English speaker teaching there. That would be little old me. Has it made much of a difference? Without a doubt! Not only have many of these children gained a large English vocabulary, but through constant practice, can use these words in a conversation. What’s more, their pronunciation and confidence has improved dramatically. I’ve written a few pieces about introducing phonics into my lessons. Two days before graduation I quizzed my students on the pronunciation of the 26 letters of the English alphabet. That is to say, when you see the letter “A”,”B” or “C”, what sounds do you make? Most of them had it right on the mark! This may not seem like a big deal, but let me tell you, this puts them waaaay ahead of many students’ ability who just completed Pratom 1 or 2! The next step will be putting letters together and learning to read. They certainly have a proper foundation for that. Hopefully their Pratom teachers will not drop the ball. These kids are moving from classroom sizes of 35 students, to 50 students, which is hardly ideal.
One thing the Thais excel at is decorating, so it is not surprising that the grounds of Anuban are a wonderland of color. Fresh flower are everywhere in profusion, along with banners, balloons and crepe paper. My fellow teachers really worked their butts off on putting this together, and their efforts show. Wisely they left me, who had ten left thumbs out of the decorating process!
Walking around with their families are all my little darlings, who look so adorable in their caps and gowns.
Here are proud mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers…all of them are beaming.
Their children are growing up so quickly! Everyone is smiling. I receive many warm genuine, smiles from family members. They know how much I care about their children. They appreciate the efforts I have made on their behalf. I do not consider myself to be an overly emotional person, but I must say that my heart was overflowing that morning. So many ex-pats spend many years here in The Land of Smiles without feeling a sense of community. I can’t express how wonderful it is to feel respected. I am not just an outsider looking in. I am part and parcel of everything going around me. Of course having my own little boy in school demonstrates my commitment to the program. Sam, having finished a year of nursery school, will be starting Anuban 1in May.
It is immediately apparent that the families of these children are affluent. The parents are well dressed. They drive more expensive vehicles than I do, and their camera equipment would earn approval from Stick or BKK Steve. Oh well, my little point and shoot serves me well enough, as you can see from these “snapshots’. Next year my school is will have one designated Anuban classroom where everything will be taught primarily in English…with a lot of help from some Thai partners. The “extra” cost of having your child in this class will be a mere 30,000 baht. More parents have already signed up than there is space for. A second class may be added as well. I’ll have to reserve judgment on this little experiment until I see how it all unfolds.
Today it’s all about celebrating current achievements. As my young scholars march into the gymnasium, the only thing missing is the band playing Pomp and Circumstance. They do manage stirring renditions of the school march, the national anthem, and the royal anthem. One by one, the boys and girls go up to receive their diplomas from the Brother Director. They have spent a long time learning to do a respectful wai, especially the girls, who add a deep curtsey.
Eventually the entire group marches in triumph out of the gym and into a sparkling morning. Out of some corner of my mind came some lyrics from a pop song from years past. “The future’s so bright, I gotta’ wear shades”. I hope with all my heart, that at least for these children the future will indeed be bright.
The photos do a great job of complimenting this nice story.