After a two-year break caused by Armenia’s switching to a new secondary education system, the country’s 1,400 schools are going to ring again the “Last Bell” on May 25 to usher in a new stage in the lives of some 40,000 teenagers leaving their years of secondary schooling behind.
Unlike last year, when Armenia had no graduating students and, therefore, had no traditional Last Bell celebrations, this year stands out by the abundance of all sorts of souvenirs for sale in shops related to the theme, such as bells, etc. Many shops are also offering discounts these days reacting to the Last Bell buzz in town.
The celebration of Last Bell, a tradition surviving still from the Soviet times, begins at schools with official ceremonies and generally continues with parties organized at one of the classmates’ or at a restaurant or other entertainment place hired in advance.
Farewell speeches, eyes filled with tears of joy and sadness, confessions of love and hugs, fireworks and late-night walks around the city are part and parcel of the Last Bell celebration tradition.
Last Bell nights, however, have been getting more costly for parents. More and more children prefer to have their graduation parties at posh restaurants or other premises designed for such parties, where the bill can run to a hefty sum.
A few days ago Yerevan mayor Taron Margaryan instructed all educators and school officials to pay closer attention to excluding the practice of “unauthorized fundraising at schools”. At a press conference on Tuesday head of the department of general education of the Ministry of Education and Science Narine Hovhannisyan said that the Ministry’s hot line set up to respond to alerts about such practices got only three reported cases of money being collected in the period leading to this year’s graduation parties. In all cases, she said, the alerts were investigated and illegal fundraisers were stopped.
Still, funds are surely being collected in preparation for the prom nights. Simply, in most cases the parents of children themselves initiate such fundraisers to use the money for school graduating albums, souvenirs and flowers for the teachers as well as for the graduation parties proper.
The parents’ expenses vary according to where they live and what school their children attend.
Khachik Markosyan, a resident of the town of Yeghegnadzor in the southern Vayots Dzor province of Armenia, is paying for his son’s graduation expenses this year. He told ArmeniaNow that as much as 20,000 drams (about $50) had been collected from all graduating pupils at the school and this sum is supposed to be spent on buying small souvenirs and flowers for the teachers as well as for organizing a party at one of Yeghegnadzor’s public catering facilities.
However, before that 17-year-old Arman Markosyan’s father had already spent some 30,000 drams (about $75) to buy clothes for his son.
Unlike the provinces, in Yerevan parents appear to have to pay more sizable sums for the kids’ graduation – while outside Yerevan the expenses are around 20,000-40,000 drams (about $50-$100), then in the capital those range from 30,000 to 100,000 drams (about $75-$250).
One of the residents of Yerevan’s Avan community, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said each pupil in her daughter’s class had been told to chip in around 30,000 drams (about $75).
“I am a single mother, and for me it is very difficult to find that much money, but I understand that this is going to be the only Last Bell party in my daughter’s life, so I had to get the money from somewhere,” said the woman, who added that she had already spent as much money on buying clothes for her daughter to wear at the party.
“Besides all these expenses, the girl also needs to go to the hairdresser’s, have a makeup. I know, too, that in our schools we have moderate expenses, but the parents of kids attending schools in the city center have to chip in around 100,000 drams (about $250),” said 17-year-old Anna’s mother.
Last Bell parties also bode well for the business of the city’s numerous beauty parlors where all appropriate hours have been booked in advance.
“Still a few days ago people started to call and make arrangements for particular hours and as of now we already have arrangements with 30 customers. Their number is sure to grow,” a Roba beauty salon manager told ArmeniaNow, adding, however, that they would have even more customers around the Last Bell celebration day in previous years.
The school-ending holiday on Friday will end in an open-air concert and fireworks that Yerevan’s municipality will organize in the capital’s Republic Square.
Ahead of the events, the Armenian police issued a warning that all mischief will be registered and punished on that day. In particular, at a press conference on Wednesday Chief of the Traffic Police’s Road and Patrol Service, Colonel Norik Sargsyan again called on the parents whose children will be involved in the Last Bell fun this Friday, not to entrust them with keys to their cars in order to avoid road accidents.
“The police will do their utmost to prevent accidents on this day,” said Sargsyan said, reminding that five road accidents involving joyriding kids were registered on the Last Bell day in 2010, with one teenager killed and four injured then. According to another piece of related statistics for 2009, 30 of the 33 cars impounded by the police on the Last Bell day had been driven by minors.