Mario hated the first day of the school year. At just nine years old, he was starting his fourth school. Teachers at his previous school would use big words to describe him, like “disruptive” and “impulsive”. No one explained to him what that meant. Nor why he always ended up on the “naughty chair”, as Miss Deans called it at his old school. She always seemed so cross with him.
As a result of his behavior Mario found that classmates didn’t want to play with him. He couldn’t understand why. He thought he’d try harder for them to like him and so tried to hug everyone as they passed by. This landed him again in the naughty chair. Miss Deans mentioned something about “respecting other people’s personal space.” He wasn’t sure what that meant either.
Mario was always a little puzzled at his classmates. Whenever Miss Deans would ask the class a question like “what is the capital of England?” no one would answer. However, as soon as he shouted out “LONDON!” he would be met with icy stares from the other kids. None of them ever befriended him either. He heard the word “know-it-all” an awful lot.
His parents always told him he was a bright little boy. He didn’t mean to shout out answers, but sometimes he felt as it he would explode unless he got the answer out of him. This happened repeatedly.
At times, the pressure would be too much to bear and Mario would leap up right from his seat and run outside the classroom. The very first time, he had gotten all the way to the schoolyard before someone caught him. He wasn’t really planning on going any further. He’d just wanted to clear his head. The classroom was so noisy.
After that episode, his teachers devised a plan to keep Mario inside before he ever got to the classroom door. Usually it was one of the teaching assistants who would grab hold of him and attempt to calm him down. There were strategies they used: applying pressure to his arms or legs, giving him a stress ball, or slowly counting to twenty with him.
The last time though, Mario desperately needed to get outside.
He could feel himself suffocating and he tried harder to breathe. His head pounded with every step and caused his ears to start ringing.
Why would no one listen to him? All he wanted was to get some fresh air!
And so he started screaming. He stood in the middle of the corridor, covered his ears, and screamed until he could hear nothing else but his own voice reverberating through his head.
And that’s when the office called his parents.
This would be about the time that his parents would place him in another school. No one ever explained to him why he had to change schools, he just did.
Today, on this first morning, he faced an entirely new classroom of unfamiliar faces again. To be honest, he felt a bit afraid. What if they all hated him like the kids at the other schools? Whatever happened, he would try his best to keep quiet and hoped that no one would notice him.
The homeroom teacher, Miss Lang, stood in the center of the classroom, watching the children file in. She was barely taller than the kids in her class, but this was her fifth year teaching in her third grade. She was a vibrant woman in her late twenties and greeted all twenty children with her sunniest smile, as if her happiness would fail to exist without their presence.
Miss Lang was instructing the children to look for their names on one of the tables and to take a seat. Mario found his, and with him at his table were three other boys who obviously knew each other, perhaps from the previous year, and had started chattering away. Mario kept quiet, trying his best to be unseen and unheard.
Mario instantly loved this room. It was very unlike his previous classrooms which were sparse and almost sanitary. The four walls were decorated all around with letters, numbers, maps, a clock, and a few other familiar items. There were 6 round tables in the room, each with 4 chairs. On each table were four place settings with cups of pencils, drawing paper, and a notebook. In the far left side of the room was an activity center with reading books, two computers, Lego’s, an art center, and a ball pit with hundreds of small bouncy balls. This area also had floor cushions and stress balls. The room was so designed that small groups of children would take turns trying different stations throughout the day.
As it was the first day, Miss Lang and the children familiarized themselves with each other and the classroom work stations. Now the entire class sat on the floor mat in a circle, taking turns introducing themselves to their classmates. The first person to go was Miss Lang and then the child to her left would follow suit and so on.
Mario looked around and realized he would be the tenth in line. Miss Lang had started. He started to squirm where he sat. He thought about something special he could say about himself and he could sense the words forming in his head.
The next child started her introduction. Mario squirmed some more and started drumming his hands on the mat. He urgently needed to tell them his special thing or he felt he would burst. Why were they taking so long?
The fourth child started. But Mario had to get this out now.
“My name is Mario Grigoryan and I can speak Russian!” he yelled.
Everyone stopped and stared at him.
“So can I!” shouted two other children. Others started to pipe up.
Mario turned bright red. It embarrassed him that he hadn’t been able to control himself. Again.
Miss Lang had to quiet down the class. “Okay, okay. That’s awesome, Mario! But you have to wait your turn, okay?” She didn’t shout at him, but used an even tone and she smiled at him. He nodded. She allowed the fourth child to continue and eventually they got to the end.
Soon it was time for recess.
As they started filing outside, one of the kids who said he spoke Russian came and tapped Mario on the shoulder.
Mario remembered him as one of the boys from his table and replied “Hello.”
“My name is Dima. Can you really speak Russian?” he asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “My family is from Armenia. Can you?”
“Yes,” Dima replied. “My family is from Kazakhstan.”
They continued their conversation and were eventually joined by the other two boys from their table. They went out on to the playground and started playing catch.
For the first time ever, Mario felt welcome among his classmates. He’d made friends. This first day of school didn’t turn out to be so bad after all.