x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

First day of school for Maitha

Maitha al Ayali, aged five, was just one of scores of pupils across the nation starting or going back to school yesterday.

Maitha al Ayali, centre, during the assembly on the first day at Jumeirah Model School in Dubai.
Maitha al Ayali, centre, during the assembly on the first day at Jumeirah Model School in Dubai.

DUBAI // Daunted by her first day at big-girl school? Not Maitha al Ayali, aged five, who began Grade 1 yesterday at Jumeirah Model School.

She sang, charmed the teacher, applied her alphabet skills, hung out with Tigger and ran around with new chums. Maitha's mother, Aisha al Muhairi, said Maitha's primary concern was meeting her classmates so she could start making friends. "She loved kindergarten, so I was sure she would love school as well, because she has a very sociable nature. She can't wait to make new friends and start learning again. She gets along with everyone and isn't reserved," Mrs al Muhairi said.

Maitha kept her new pink schoolbag clutched at her side, fiercely protective of her school stationery. "She went to the bookshop and made sure she picked everything that she wanted," her mother said. "I bought a pencil with a rabbit," Maitha beamed. Stepping into the classroom, Maitha greeted her teacher with a sweet smile and quickly found her seat. Her teacher, Amna Ali Salem al Adidi, presented Maitha and her classmates with a new stationery set and milk-flavoured sweets. Then it was time for the girls to form a line so they could join the assembly in the courtyard.

Dressed in the school's navy blue uniform, Maitha stood in assembly and sang the national anthem. The older girls at the school repeated a few inspirational chants before the headmistress welcomed them with a few words. "I want to welcome you back to school. I hope you'll be among the best achievers this year and your first day is a happy one," said the principal, Heera Saif al Muhairi. Maitha and her classmates were soon being ushered back to class. As they took their seats again, the teacher passed around their ID cards and reminded the pupils they should wear the card while at school.

"Tell your mother that you have to put it on every morning, so everyone will know your name and class," Ms al Adidi said. The teacher moved to the back of the classroom and pointed out a shelf with a variety of storybooks. She urged the girls to let her know when they felt like reading and told them they would start playing a game right away. They all lined up quickly before a large coloured puzzle on the floor with Arabic alphabet. Each girl took a turn to step on the letter corresponding to the one the teacher called out. With the exception of two students who misheard the alphabet, everyone seemed to know their Arabic letters. Maitha quickly found her letter and smiled when the teacher praised her.

Ms al Adidi said: "I'm very pleased that the girls this year are used to the idea of school and seem to genuinely like it." Discipline in Grade 1 is a prominent part of the daily agenda as the teacher guided the girls in a friendly tone about the importance of asking for permission, putting their chairs back in their place and helping out their classmates. Before breaking for a morning snack of fruit juice, a banana and a sandwich, the girls washed their hands, unaware of the surprise awaiting them in the school cafeteria.

Midway through their morning snack, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Barney, Tigger and friends burst through the door. Maitha rushed over with a friend to say hello and shake Tigger's hand. After breakfast, the girls were led to the gymnasium where the cartoon characters had gathered and where a jumping castle, musical chairs and other games had been organised. An hour later, true to her mother's words, Maitha had quickly integrated - she held hands with other girls as she ran around the gym making the most of her first day at school.

Maryam Mohammad, the school's vice principal, said: "The first day is very important. "Some of them are a little scared, so we have to make sure it's enjoyable to ensure that they are excited about it the next day. Grade 1 teachers are always cheerful and very personable." "This is only the start," the principal, Ms al Muhairi, added: "but after 10 years, we want those girls to have a strong personality, strong values and a technical ability. We teach them co-operation, cleanliness, loyalty and belonging to one's country, among other values."