PA Schools Preserving Traditions This Holiday Season - Paycheck

PA Schools Preserving Traditions This Holiday Season

The school Christmas pageant is among the most familiar of American traditions.  Now frequently rebranded as a “holiday pageant”—although the traditions of marking Hanukkah or Diwali by singing “Jingle Bells” are not, shall we say, ones of long standing—these events may also be the aspect of ordinary life that most resembles a “Charlie Brown” holiday special.

         Like so many things, that tradition will be different in 2020.

         To begin with, well over a third of Pennsylvania school students are attending classes only online—and while it may be possible to convey the mysteries of diagramming sentences or plane geometry using modern technology, no one has yet worked out how to practice a play or pageant online.

         Large suburban school districts seem largely to be all but overwhelmed by the challenges of hybrid instruction combining online classes with a few days a week in school; few activities outside the classroom except high-profile sports like basketball—and that played only before limited crowds—have managed to hang on.

         For students at smaller schools—suburban districts not swept into consolidations years ago, rural districts, and non-public schools—remarkable creativity is being given maintaining these ordinary things.  I spoke to parents who have been invited to watch high school plays performed before empty auditorium seats on YouTube, middle school choir concerts offered cabaret-style with parents socially distanced at card tables in a vast gymnasium, and streaming video of performances by preschoolers.

         As stabs at ordinary life go in 2020, there is much to be said for this.  This school year is certain to be remembered as the one that began in uncertainty and fear, but what may be most vividly recalled years from now are the attempts to carry on as usual.

         Meanwhile, the older cousins of today’s elementary and high school students who are in college will see little to mark the holidays.  A few schools scheduled an early enough start to the semester to finish finals before Thanksgiving, while nearly all the rest switched to a week or two of remote instruction followed by online final—leaving college campuses with a deserted feel usually found only on Christmas Day itself.

         Still, like Charlie Brown’s undersized Christmas tree, efforts to preserve these parts of “normal” life go on in much of Pennsylvania—and for all the grumbling by students and parents alike this month, seem certain to create the memories that are discussed every time classmates are together years from now.

Michael O'Connell

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