By Shaindle Schmuckler | shaindle@atljewishtimes.com

As another school year begins, once again I must adjust my body clock.

When I went to school, Labor Day marked the beginning of a new school year. The school year always ended on my birthday. I’ve lived in the South more than three-quarters of my life, yet my body clock still anticipates these start and end dates. It’s positively exhausting.

My elementary school was directly across the street from our apartment building. No grass, but a huge schoolyard. The lunchroom was in the basement with bars on the windows. At that young age, it never crossed our minds to question what those bars were for.

Shaindle Schmuckler

Shaindle Schmuckler

My high school boasted a winning basketball team and a champion cheering squad; lest we forget, we proudly hosted the Fordham Baldies and the Fordham Baldettes. Of course, it goes without saying we were very proud of Beta Club, math and science clubs, and our G.O. (government organization). Note the order of what made us feel proud!

We had periodic lockdowns when rival gangs to the Baldies would try to invade our space. Zip guns were all the rage.

But enough about me!

The elementary school my girls attended had a beautiful lake where ducks and swans were in abundance. Tie-dye peace signs were all the rage. The giant old trees were for shade and for climbing. The garden produced flowers and vegetables. The main classroom building was shaped like a giant dome.

The teachers loved and respected their students. They learned reading, writing and arithmetic. More important, they learned, by example and discussion, how to treat others. They learned about their immediate world and the world beyond their neighborhoods.

After moving to Atlanta, I felt as if their education was a bit one-dimensional. One Sunday morning I was reading the newspaper and drinking my coffee when I spotted an ad about the wonderful experiences families have had in bringing foreign exchange students into their homes.

And so began our journey learning about the world up close and personal. We shared our home with students from France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Israel and more. They became immersed in the American school system and were rocked by how much Americans eat, and the fact that most Americans have never traveled to other countries was a mystery to them. We had to introduce them to the concept of a snack. Seriously!

We had mostly fabulous experiences, which informed how my girls see the rest of the world, the many challenges it faces, and the importance of giving back.

Louisa was from an impoverished small town in Spain. She won a scholarship that enabled her to participate in the program. She was appalled at the amount of water we wasted on what she considered to be frivolous. She was stymied by our use of a clothes washer, not washing clothes by hand and saving the water for baths. The amount of food we ate made her gag. Always afraid she would not have food for the next day, she would hide food under her mattress.

Our student from Germany pushed my family, including my dad, who lost almost everyone to the Holocaust, to see her as a beautiful, bright girl and not as a threat to the Jewish people. By the way, my dad adored her.

Our young man from the Netherlands graduated with high grades from our high school. He was able to use his soccer skills to play football on the school team. He did, however, fail the driving test. With a little ingenuity on my part, he was awarded an international license in his home country.

Within the next two weeks, everyone will be back in school. I, on the other hand, will be working on adjusting my body clock, as well as adjusting to the onslaught of traffic.

To all you students out there, young and old, I toast you with my cup of coffee and wish you a fun, meaningful and happy school year. Until next summer when you can all join in singing: “No more pencils, no more books, and no more teachers’ dirty looks.”

Oh, wait, do you even use pencils anymore? And, of course, why use books when Google is just a click away?