The first day of school is usually a whirlwind of anxiety for parents, students, and teachers, but one local school has an annual tradition that takes the edge off those first-day jitters. For the past 13 years, City Neighbors Charter School—and its satellite locations City Neighbors Hamilton and City Neighbors High School—greet each student a warm back-to-school welcome and a flower as they enter the building.
“When we first opened City Neighbors, we were so focused on creating a public school that was filled with love, beauty, and possibility,” said Bobbi Macdonald, executive director for City Neighbors Foundation. “Every year, on opening day, we hand a wildflower to each student walking in the door. When they get to their classroom, they put them in the vase—each group making a unique bouquet.”
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Ever year, it begins with Macdonald’s 5 a.m. trip to Claymore C. Sieck Wholesale Florist to pick out hundreds of wildflowers for the students. When the first bell chimes at 8 a.m., students from kindergarten to high school flock to the entrances with their parents to begin the new school year.
City Neighbors Charter School was founded in the fall of 2005 with 120 students enrolled in grades K-5. Today, the school has expanded to include another elementary/middle school founded in 2009, and a high school founded in 2010 serving more than 800 children.
The annual practice of distributing flowers has become a family tradition at each of the schools, including the high school. Berber Poplin, mother of first and third grade students at City Neighbors, said she looks forward to it each year—maybe more than her girls.
“I think it’s amazing. I always take pictures,” she said. “The kids love it so much, it’s really sweet. They really like giving the teacher a flower.”
Similarly, another parent expressed her love of the tradition and said that her five-year-old has been looking forward to this day for the nearly two years.
“She would see it walking into school with her older sister,” said Sharalyne Weber. “Now it’s her first year of kindergarten, so she was so excited to give a flower to her teacher.”
Every wildflower given is a symbolic representation of the student carrying it. At the end of the day, each teacher takes home a beautiful arrangement of different wildflowers that embodies the diverse students in the class.
“We encourage children to be empowered by knowledge and thinking for their own lives and for the good of the community,” Macdonald said. “This tradition is something is a small piece of that. This small gesture shows diversity, integration, and love—that’s what we like to promote here.”