A school which gives and receives

Darija Koljadko

What does school mean to me, what has it given me? I sit and ponder this question, try to remember precisely everything that has happened and focus on what was important. What a difficult task!

My memories of school are like the pictures of Waldorf pupils in class 1: strong patches of colour, shapes – expressions of strong feelings and happy experiences. But what were my happiest experiences at school? Painting lanterns, knitting sheep, decorating the classroom and preparing sauerkraut for the bazaar, knitting costumes for the class play, the class play itself and our singing, the feeling that we were constantly singing. And then the class trips! How many of those did we go on! Christmas, playing the xylophone, advent singing, secret Santa, Christmas plays, tours with our plays to other cities and abroad, painting, eurythmy, projects, social dances and planting a chestnut in the school grounds on our last day at school. All those things happened and all of them are part of me and will always be part of me.

And what about the lessons? There were lessons as well, of course, and they will always be part of me. I remember them very well. But pride of place will nevertheless be taken by everything that passed through my hands, in which my imagination, my work, my expectations, my experience were involved, my first small successes … I sit and ponder – and then it comes to me!

A place which changes through us

There is one point on which all former pupils agree: that our school gave us a lot, and that really is true. But what about the other good schools in Moscow? After all, every good school gives a lot to its pupils. At university I asked my fellow students on a number of occasions whether they enjoyed school, whether it gave them a lot, and almost all of them answered that they learnt much, had good teachers, went on great class trips and had fantastic festivals. But when I asked them whether they had ever returned to their school at any time after the leaving ball they always asked in turn: Why? “If you went to a good school you learnt a lot and made good friends. You can take both things with you. You can meet your school friends anywhere in the city,” they commented.

“And your school? What about that?” I asked. “The school? That’s just a building with walls and classrooms. If you’re lucky, it is a nice and inviting building. But the task of gifted pupils is to obtain as much knowledge as they can there.”

That sounds accurate enough. But is it really like that for us Waldorf pupils? Would someone say about our school that they took as much as possible away with them and that’s it? Would someone describe our school as a building in which nothing but knowledge is communicated? What about all the things we left behind in school which we cannot take away with us so easily because they belong not just to us but to us and the school?

And that is when a crucial difference became clear to me: our school gives a lot and that is wonderful. But it also receives. Has anyone thought about it like that? I don’t know, but for me that is precisely what fundamentally differentiates our school from very many other schools. Our school is a school which not only gives but also receives. Isn’t that absurd? Of course not! It is simply a very rare gift.

Do you remember how the school gave each one of us the opportunity – occasionally with some insistence, something that is presumably also part of school – to become involved and contribute something: your effort, your work, to feel yourselves as an important part of something, part of what was just being created and then reaping the rewards of that work and sharing them with the others?

I am certain that everyone who passes through our school, be they pupils, teachers, parents or alumni, finds something which they were involved in creating, be it something visible or invisible. Even if they can no longer find it because too many years have passed, they will nevertheless remember it and know that their work has left a trace.

Let us recall all the things we prepared, painted, decorated, built, repaired, acquired and practiced, all the things into which we put our heart, some less so, some more so, some more often, some less often. Everyone involved themselves and knew that it would contribute nothing to their academic career, add no additional “credit” to the tally of their final exams, but that it was work and time for a common cause, for everyone, for our school. And our school is capable of receiving all those things! Receiving them in such a way that we want to involve ourselves again the next time, that no one is left indifferent, that we feel respected and needed as individuals and are capable not just of taking but also of giving.

A second home

Our school has become a second home for many of us alumni because in a healthy family everyone as the same rights, because there is no one who only gives or only receives. I remember how important it was for us little ones, who looked up to our parents and teachers, when the little sheep we had knitted ourselves were admired by the adults at the Christmas bazaar and then, indeed, bought. Ah, that means they must be good – we thought – and here we were, thinking you could hardly distinguish the front legs from the back. In fact, it was quite difficult to distinguish them!

I remember the bench we built in the playground, the red curtain in the hall bought with the money we had earned through our café at the Christmas bazaar, my first article in our school newspaper, the feeling of happiness after the success of our play Demetrius in Austria, the applause and admiration of the audience at all our class plays, the faces of the class 1 pupils when we guided them through the Advent spiral, the tears in the eyes of the teachers when we sang the lullaby for Jesus in the Christmas play, the tears in the eyes of my mother when I danced Eurydice in our eurythmy project, the tears and smiles of our teachers when we left school, and much, much more …

School and pupils – receiving and giving

And what else did I discover in the spring of this year? The chestnut tree which we planted in the playground on our final day at school in 2005 is showing the first pistils. It will bear its first fruits this year!

All those things we gave one another! Every alumni will have their own list and in its way it will be an endless list of events … And the surprising thing is this: everything that the school has received from us it returns a thousandfold. And what remains? Unforgettable moments.

All those things formed us, step by step, over many years, as they did the school. And now it is 20 years old. Many things are irrevocably gone, many things have been transformed. But I am certain that this school will never lose its gift to accept our hopes and endeavours. And don’t even try to extract the maximum from this school without you yourself letting your time, your strength and your talent flow into it! Because this is a different kind of school.

Perhaps you won’t acquire all the academic knowledge within its walls which you might elsewhere, but instead you will learn emphatically not just to take but also to give. To give without becoming poorer but richer! Years have passed … Lots of unknown faces among the pupils in the corridors, also teachers whom I don’t know … But that does not bother me because I know that while this school exists I will always find someone to whom I can go. It is as if the school was alive, created out of all the things which we have put into it. Like a family home which bears within it inexhaustible forces of vitality throughout life, help and love, here and now and in our memory.

Darija Koljadko is an alumni of the Moscow Waldorf School No. 1060. She attended the school from 1994 to 2005 and wrote these lines for its 20th birthday which was celebrated in September 2012. Darija has meanwhile become a business economists.