By Sarah Vander Schaaff

Tradition. My family does not have a lot of it, to be honest, so the events at school that fall under that category, are interesting to me. And if there was ever a season for traditions it seems spring is it. The only one I remember from my own elementary school days was track and field day, but it was big—and it was something I looked forward to, if only to see my principal play tug-of-war.

My oldest daughter recently had a Maypole celebration. Her cohort of second-graders practiced for several days, learning to bow to their neighbors and then move, with a steady pace, in what became a weaving of the colorful ribbons draped from the tall poles.

On the day of the event, the girls and boys were asked to wear clothes a bit more special than usual. An orchestra of their peers struck up a sweet and simple tune, and the crowd watched as the kids did exactly what they’d practiced: weave between one another and then carefully retrace their steps.

It was a simple accomplishment but one that required cooperation and mutual adherence to a plan—I can only imagine what some of the rehearsals looked like and what kids had been temporarily tangled in knots.

But this was more than a spectacle to impress the crowd. This was, as one school administrator said before the dance began, part of the water that flowed from years past—a river, so to speak, of tradition that students have done for decades.

After the dance, I looked at photographs of the girls who had participated in the event more than fifty years ago. Back then, these young women, (these were not second-graders in the photos) did the celebration to honor the newly elected head of student government. This student leader would be crowned at the end, inaugurating her term, so to speak.

This was a tradition carried over from the all girls school that later merged with an all boys one, creating, essentially, what is now my daughter’s school. I’d never spent much time thinking about the young women who attended that school for girls, or who they became or what they went on to accomplish.

Until last week.

The best school traditions seem to be the ones that are more than opportunities to get out of the classroom; they are reminders of the lives of those students who came before. It is an added bonus that many of these traditions foster cooperation, team work, patience and discipline; skills that are touted as 21st century essentials.

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