Sarnia elementary schools aren’t allowing COVID-19 to be the Grinch stealing holiday spirit this year.
Although traditional assemblies with five-year-olds dressed as elves and the entire school singing along are out, the ingenuity of local principals and teachers has allowed some school community to come together. It just looks and sounds different.
“Christmas and Advent are not cancelled and we just have to think outside the box,” says Daniela Mezzatesta, principal of Gregory A. Hogan School.
With health and safety protocols in place, people are craving the joy and togetherness the season normally brings, she said.
“So our staff is getting creative and I feel like the joy is back.”
Christmas music is piped to the playground so Gregory Hogan’s 545 students can have outdoor dance parties at recess. Classroom windows are decorated for the inaugural outdoor Holly Jolly Window Walk, and Mezzatesta and vice principal Ryan Hare are reading seasonal favourites over the PA.
Instead of a large Christmas assembly, each class sang in front of a camera – with masks on ‑ under the direction of music teacher Aleigha Charette.
The separate performances are edited together into a single video to be enjoyed online.
As for a group sing, Mezzatesta has found a solution for that as well.
On the last day before the holidays, carols will play over the PA system, classroom doors will open wide and student cohorts will be able to sing in unison at a distance from one another.
Over at Cathcart Boulevard School, music teacher Laureen Paine had orchestrated an annual choral production for 15 years – until the pandemic hit and completely cancelled it last year. But with a little technical ingenuity, the show’s back on.
“We can’t have any audiences and the students are in cohorts and can’t interact, but we are determined to have something meaningful and fun,” Paine said. “For a lot of students and for me, it’s the most special time of year.”
Like her counterpart at Gregory A. Hogan, she filmed each class singing seasonal classics masked and in horseshoe formation, not in rows, to meet safety protocols. The performances were edited together in a format every teacher can watch on a large screen with their class.
All holiday activities, including a virtual singalong with teacher Devon Crawford, bring the school together to celebrate and make memories, said Paine.
At Sarnia Christian School, principal Len Smit and his staff moved the traditional indoor assembly to the schoolyard, where student cohorts could listen and watch each other perform from a distance.
A big bonus was parents and grandparents could also bundle up and enjoy the music.
“Indoor assemblies are not allowed but we wanted to showcase our choirs and our bands,” said Smit. “It was an opportunity to gather all together and yet still be safely apart.
“It’s not the same,” he added. “But the protocols are important to follow. We don’t want to go back to remote learning. We want our students to be in school where they can see their friends and be as normal as possible under the circumstances.”
Gregory Hogan’s Daniela Mezzatesta summed up the approach educators are taking.
“With a lens on keeping everyone safe and adhering to protocols, staff is doing a really great job being creative and problem solving,” she said.
“There’s a collective, concentrated effort to give the students as much cheer and joy and connectivity as we can.”