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The first day — and the second

The first day of a new school year, especially at an elementary school, is a time of excitement, nervous stomachs and a few tears — as often as not, tears shed by the parents of children moving on to a new stage of life. The second day of school, however, is often just the second day of school.

The difference between the two days was evident to anyone whose travel patterns took them past one of Suffolk’s elementary schools on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Tuesday, school parking lots were full of empty cars, as parents escorted their children into the school buildings, hauling backpacks and shopping bags full of supplies, snapping photos of the smartly dressed students as they met their new teachers and lingering in wonder as they thought about how quickly their children had grown.

On Wednesday, there were plenty of spaces available. Many of the same parents who devoted extra time to the process on Tuesday drove up to the schools’ sidewalk drop-off locations, gave their children a quick kiss goodbye and sent them into the buildings on their own.

Such is human nature that the great transitions of life so often take place in the blink of an eye as we prepare to move on to the next challenge, content to savor the moments in photos on camera phones or in the imperfect images of fading memory.

There’s really nothing wrong with the fact that we don’t dwell on such moments. Life does, in fact, move on, and we are all responsible for being ready to move on with it or risk being caught off guard by the next crisis. The trick, though, especially when it comes to children and their education, is to recognize the need to stay involved.

There’s more to a parent’s responsibility than to make sure his child gets to school and back home safely. There’s getting to know the teacher, helping with homework, following up to understand poor grades, asking the child about his friends at school and paying attention to the sometimes subtle clues that a child is in trouble.

Here’s hoping that Suffolk’s parents will remember this year that the second, third, 20th and 100th days of school are just as important as the first. Even the best teachers cannot have a bigger effect on a child’s education.