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Halloween Parties vs. Student Learning: What Do You Think, Rochester?

Read how one Rochester school has restructured the way it celebrates Halloween.

Where should schools draw the line between work and play? Between classrooms and costumes?

It's a question at least one Rochester school community is facing this Halloween: students at Meadow Brook Elementary School in Rochester Hills will not be parading through their school in costume Wednesday as in years' past. Instead of the annual daytime Halloween parade and party, students were invited to dress in costume for the school's fall social on Friday night.

Meadow Brook Principal Maria Etienne explained the change in a recent letter to parents that was shared with Rochester Patch.

"This celebration takes away a good portion of the day’s instruction, minutes and hours that are precious to our students," Etienne stated. "We at Meadow Brook are advocates for student learning and quality teaching in a safe and caring environment.

"A student is the most important person in my school. ... As a result the focus of our school is on service and excellence, emphasizing the importance of teaching and learning."

Meadow Brook students were invited to dress in their Halloween costumes for a fall social last Friday night. The event included a parade and music. 

But some parents were upset about the change to the long-standing tradition.

"Meadow Brook Elementary will be the only school in the district that will be doing absolutely nothing on Halloween during the school day," said parent Amy Wendt.

Wendt said more than 90 parents signed a petition asking for a compromise: they acknowledged that giving up two hours of classroom time for a parade and party was too much and asked for a costume parade only.

"Having the Halloween parade during the school day gives the kids something to look forward to, creating a positive environment for learning," parents wrote in a letter to Etienne. "Having the Halloween parade keeps a long standing tradition at Meadow Brook Elementary. Traditions are very important as they give the school an identity."

The Rochester school is not alone in the cancellation of daytime Halloween festivities. A school district in suburban Chicago made headlines this month when its school board backed the superintendent's decision to ban Halloween parties at some schools. Three Skokie-Morton Grove District 69 schools will not have Halloween parties this year; the superintendent cited concerns the district has not made progress in certain testing areas and wanted learning to be the focus. Almost 500 parents signed a petition to keep the parties. 

Last year, several Muskegon-area schools replaced Halloween celebrations with shorter fall festivals; one school even made health and fitness - rather than candy - the focus of the event.

And a decision to ban Halloween costumes at an Oregon school led Fox News to headine a report: "Schools Declare War on Halloween."

Etienne stated that she plans to send a survey to all families who attended the fall social to get parent feedback for future celebrations. "I promise you that parents' voices will be heard upon the return of the survey," she stated in her letter to parents.

What do you think? Should schools explore other ways to celebrate occasions like Halloween? 

Editor's note: To read comments on this story, you must be logged in to Patch.

Stephanie U October 31, 2012 at 09:37 AM
I agree. We moved here 2 years ago from California where there were no parties at all during the school days. We had Fall Festivals for costumes in the Fall. We had Gingerbread math rotations in December. Plenty of opportunities for fun, creative learning without all the sugared up, hyped up parties that I have noticed are abundant in Rochester traditions. It's not just 2 hours of instruction time- it's winding the kids up making it difficult to learn for 1-2 days in the aftermath of it.
Rochester Hills Mom October 31, 2012 at 11:05 AM
I have issue with Meadow Brook's Halloween parade and party being taken away from the students during school hours because it's not the same policy for ALL the elementary schools within our district. I'm curious how other parents within the RCS district would feel if this happened at their elementary school? I understand that school principals should have autonomy when it comes to events held within their buildings, I do not understand, nor agree with, how this autonomy can allow unequal opportunities for students within the RCS district, especially with benign social events, like a Halloween parade. Play is important, enhances learning and builds community, especially at the elementary level. It's unfair that one elementary school within our district has this experience taken away during the school day while other students within RCS continue to have that opportunity. Couldn't a compromise have been agreed upon between the parents, teachers and administration? Perhaps a Halloween parade for the last hour of the school day, without classroom parties? I would hope that educators don't forget to let kids be kids while trying to meet testing and achievement mandates.
Lynn October 31, 2012 at 11:58 AM
It's not fair when one group of children aren't allowed to wear their costumes and are told they must remain focused for the entire day while another school in the same neighborhood or within the same family is enjoying holiday celebrations. These are young kids, Halloween is a big deal! An hour of fun isn't going to make or break curriculum achievement. Tell me those students aren't going to be hyped up anyway, just by the fact that it's Halloween. Why not embrace the enthusiasm and then build on it with learning?
candy girl October 31, 2012 at 12:11 PM
^-^
Rochester Resident October 31, 2012 at 12:36 PM
I would be outraged if my child went there. I to this day remember be so excited to see everyone in costume at school. That principle should have listened to the parents. It sounds like this was a personal decision on her part, she clearly was not thinking about the kids. I understand some people do not like Halloween but do not force that on everyone. It's too bad....
Sandi King October 31, 2012 at 12:52 PM
I would agree that parties and a parade are a bit much, but a compromise of one and not the other might work well. I wonder, however, at the hypocrisy of not allowing these 'fun' distractions, but still enforcing all the assemblies to announce/explain/hype fundraising for the school. They learn nothing from that and yet there seem to be several a semester. If we are going to say that time in the classroom is precious, let's be consistent.
Joshua Raymond October 31, 2012 at 01:01 PM
I don't have any issue with schools celebrating differently or perhaps not at all. We don't need every school in the district to be the same. However, I believe our schools need to work more in conjunction with parents and be responsive to parents. Parents do not appear to have been consulted on this decision, which I believe was unwise. If parental involvement is desired, it must be a two-way street. I can see some viewing four holiday parties as excessive and perhaps that 0.5% of the time could be used for instruction. Some schools may feel it is more necessary than others. Or there may be to use 2.1 minutes a day more efficiently and achieve the same increase in instruction time. With recess benefiting learning (http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Recess_Elementary/), a school that cuts activities such as recess and parties may find that it is doing more damage than good.
Terri colasuonno October 31, 2012 at 01:11 PM
Ridiculous Meadowbrook. Kids need to relax and have fun with their peers once in a while. Doing more harm than good. Kids will be feeling negative and resentful today which doesn't exactly lead to a productive and beneficial learning environment. SO much emphasis on testing and achievement-sorely lacking time for creative writing pieces, art, developing different intelligences and most importantly developing emotional and social skills through cooperative learning, games etc. Hasn't exactly raised test scores or made our students and brighter. Live a little and rediscover your youth.
Terri colasuonno October 31, 2012 at 01:15 PM
You can refer to Finland studies too on the incredible benefits and importance if recess and physical activity - they take many breaks throughout the day, care about socialization and emotional health and as a result Finland leads the rest if the world iin student achievement.
Jessica S October 31, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Bad, bad choice Meadowbrook, way to take the fun out of school! I am pretty sure that taking one hour to celebrate and have some fun will not hinder a child's learning! Elementary school is about learning but it is also about enjoying all the experiences that you only get while in elementary school! Will you be taking away recess next?? I am a parent of an elementary student in Rochester and I am so glad my child does not go to this school!!!
Jackie Horwath October 31, 2012 at 04:24 PM
You tell them Amy! Let those kids have some fun.
Renee October 31, 2012 at 04:32 PM
I am a parent of high school and college age children. If I asked my kids what is their biggest memories of elementary school, at the top would be the Halloween parade and party. I'm sad for the students this year. You have to balance education and fun at this early age. You don't want the kids to have negative feelings towards education. Which is what I fear might happen by taking away this celebration ESPECIALLY at just 1 school and not the other schools in the distfict. You can learn by having fun. If I remember correct, most of the games they played during these celebrations involved some type of learning. So sad......
lisa October 31, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Meadow Brook is a great school with many dedicated teachers and devoted families. This was just a sad turn of events that surprised many of us. And with no option for discussion or compromise this year. These students are just little kids, we need to remember that. And test scores and curriculum content, while important, aren't all that are necessary build a healthy learning environment. These children unfortunately have their whole lives ahead of them to feel pressure and stress, let them celebrate while they can.
New mom October 31, 2012 at 05:03 PM
I am disappointed to hear this as my child has yet to start school at Meadowbrook. Elementary education is supposed to be more than just test scores. It's about family, fun and socializing. The parade is a great way to get more parents involved in school activities. I remember my Halloween parade from elementary and I remember seeing my mom watching us and feeling happy and proud. I can't remember a single test I took in elementary school though.
Sherry October 31, 2012 at 06:12 PM
As a MBE parent, I too, dislike the lack of parade at our school this year. And, yes, I agree, it would seem that a compromise could have been worked out (as mentioned, perhaps parade, no party, etc). However, what I really detest, is the negative publicity this controversy has created for our school. Is this really the impression we want to put forth in the RCS community, that MBE is a bad place because of one faulty decision regarding a party?! There is a lot to be proud of as a MBE family, staff member, and student. Let's not forget that we should NOT let this one bad thing define our Meadow Brook Community.
Mike Reno October 31, 2012 at 06:59 PM
My son was invited to a Halloween party for tonight, and was told he could even come over early... come directly after school. He, of course, wanted to go right after school. When asked if he should do his homework first... HE pointed out, "It's Halloween! It's a blow-off day at school, and there will not be any homework. It's always that way, Dad." Of course. It's only one day. Just like Valentines Day. Just like the goofy two-day week around Thanksgiving. Just like the time around the other real holidays, and Hallmark holidays. There is always going to be someone who will argue that whatever day is in question is undeniably the most important day to celebrate for a child. I've seen this year after year for 10+ years. Despite what some might say, it is not just a quick little break. It is a disruption for the better part of the day. At some point, shouldn't we draw the line, and say school is more important? Maybe we don't need to completely ban it... maybe let'em have a parade 30 minutes before the end of school. Or better yet, can't we have a PTA sponsored after-school party?
Marie October 31, 2012 at 07:12 PM
This "one bad thing" is just the beginning. See what happens next year. The list will be longer. MBE is not "bad," it's the behavior that's "bad." People need to know what is happening at our school. This "one bad thing" is a symptom of the bigger picture, inequality of privilege/education/opportunity within our RCS district. This cancellation of any school day Halloween celebrations @ MBE is a stepping stone to the next item on the agenda.
Marie October 31, 2012 at 07:36 PM
That's what we said! Can't we have a compromise? That's what the parents at MBE asked for, a compromise. Parent after parent gave compromise suggestions at the PTA meeting. None of which were considered. You can take the celebration out of Halloween, but you can't take the excitement out of the kids.
Allison Mintz October 31, 2012 at 07:40 PM
My son is a student at MBE. When I first heard that the Halloween party was cancelled I was disappointed. However, Mrs. Etienne along with the PTA transformed the fall social into a great Halloween friendly event not just for the kids, but for the entire family. The kids had a wonderful time and were able to parade in their costumes for everyone to see.I understand that parents are upset due to a change in the "tradition". Sometimes, a change can be a start of a new and better tradition. I for one like to see changes made because it shows imagination and creativity among the staff. I also felt that the fall social made it easier for parents who work to attend the event. Many working parents are unable to take off work to attend a daytime parade at the school. Being able to have an evening event makes it more feasible for working families to still be able to attend. Finally, I think that MBE created a good compromise to the class party by providing the Halloween Fall Social. I think having a survey go out to get parent/student input in a good idea as there are always ways to improve on an event. Sometimes it takes a bold change to help create something that will be enjoyed and positively viewed for years to come.
Rochester Hills Mom October 31, 2012 at 08:14 PM
I think parents would be more open to change if they felt they're opinions and suggestions had been CONSIDERED in this process. The fall social was going to happen, regardless of the Halloween parade/party situation. The MB PTA decided, at the Sept. mtg., to make the Fall social they host have a Halloween theme so that the kids could have an opportunity to celebrate Halloween with their peers. This "compromise" seemed more like an after thought when a parent mentioned at this PTA mtg. that the kids wouldn't be celebrating any Halloween festivities this year. That the principal cancelled the parade and class parties for Halloween at MB yet other kids within the district are able to celebrate DURING the SCHOOL DAY is what I have issue with....why is it acceptable to deny one group of kids this opportunity yet allow another to enjoy a fun afternoon? A parade the last hour of the school day wouldn't have interfered with a day of learning and kept a fun tradition for the kids to do while in school.
Marie T October 31, 2012 at 09:43 PM
I agree with Mike. I believe, as it has been stated, that it was an after-school party on Friday. Parents need to look at the Smarter Balance Assessment which students will be taking in 2014. http://www.smarterbalanced.org/smarter-balanced-assessments/ The typing component alone will be difficult for some students. It is lovely to look back on our childhoods and remember the times we had in school. Yet, we are in the 21st century and our children are competing against students in India, Japan, and China. Do they have Halloween parties during their school day?
Marie T October 31, 2012 at 09:46 PM
I believe that University Hills has not had these events for many years, so your child is not the only student in RCS who is not celebrating during the school day.
Marie T October 31, 2012 at 09:48 PM
I agree and appreciate your rational, well thought out response.
Rochester Hills Mom November 01, 2012 at 01:10 AM
It's my understanding that University Hills still has a fall celebration or some type of class party DURNING the school day. Also, I don't have children at the elementary level any longer but I'm still concerned that ALL elementary kids in the RSC district are given equal opportunities for learning and play within their school day.
Marie November 01, 2012 at 11:11 AM
Rochester Hills Mom, I concur!
Susan M. November 01, 2012 at 01:15 PM
This is yet another of a long history of knee jerk decisons during her tenure at MBE. We were at MBE when the then principal greeted students in the hall with open arms. A principal who used the Halloween party as an opportunity for team building as her teachers dressed in a common theme. A principal who worked with and communicated with parents. A principal who saw play as opportunities for learning. I have a student who is excelling at cyberschool through the Waterford schools and on a tough day spends 4 hours on her studies. The problem isn't the precious little time the students are in school, but rather how effective their time is used. I wonder when the district will start listening to parents about their frustrations with Mrs. E that have been ongoing since she started and only quiet as their kids age out, only to be replaced by the incoming parents.
Marie T November 01, 2012 at 08:36 PM
Please contact your state representatives, the Dept. of Education, and the companies which are profiting from testing your children. Learning enviroment has been set by people who are not educators. I am concerned about the pressure that we are putting on our children. I do not blame the school when they make these types of decisions.
Marie T November 01, 2012 at 08:44 PM
In the post to which I replied, you were talking about the parade "That the principal cancelled the parade and class parties for Halloween at MB yet other kids within the district are able to celebrate DURING the SCHOOL DAY". I was replying to that information. Again, I will state as I did in a prior post: "Please contact your state representatives, the Dept. of Education, and the companies which are profiting from testing your children. Learning enviroment has been set by people who are not educators. I am concerned about the pressure that we are putting on our children. I do not blame the school when they make these types of decisions." Did you complain when the second recess was taken from students during budget cuts years ago? Lastly, I did not know that you were not a parent at MBE. Do you think others are not concerned about all students? Just because I did not use all capitals for "all" doesn't mean I am not concerned about student learning and growth.
Brenda Bicknell November 02, 2012 at 11:07 AM
How sad! So much pressure being put on kids today. No time to be kids. Celebrations like Halloween are part of growing up. Kids should be kids. Stopping Halloween and other holiday celebrations at U Hills has been a bad choice. Bad for the students, parents and staff. I hope MBE sees the light and goes back to the traditional way of celebrating. Long live the Haloween parade and having alittle fun.
Cheryl November 03, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Having seen the students (and parents and alumni) at the PTA Fall Harvest event and during the school day on Halloween, I can exhale and know that the children did not miss out on Halloween fun at MB. One treat was seeing many Dads in costume and older sibs return. The emotional response in some comments is fueled by misinformation. MB is not the only school to move (not cancel) the parade to the evening, the decision was a majority staff vote that the Principal then supported, the students dressed up on Halloween day in holiday colors, and parent views were aired during a PTA meeting. The Principal is being villified for supporting teachers and PTA members who wanted to try a different way of celebrating. We can hope that the parents who did not sway the decision in their favor were still models of good citizenship for their children.

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