Tundra Halloween

In southwestern Pennsylvania, Halloween takes place in fall. The leaves are turning a multitude of colors, falling off the trees. Houses get decked out with fake spider-webs, wailing ghosts, carved pumpkins, fake tombstones, bats, and other appropriately spooky décor. On Halloween night, sirens sound in the communities to signal the start of trick-or-treat. Children dressed in a variety of store-bought and homemade costumes descend on houses, ringing doorbells and crying “Trick or treat!”

In southwestern Alaska, Halloween may as well take place in the winter. Snow covers the ground, and the river that runs through Nunap is covered in ice. (In some places that ice is thick enough to walk on, but that’s another story.) What grasses are still visible dance in shades of brown and grey in the constant wind. There aren’t any decorations on the houses. Inside the school, however, is a different story. Posters in hall remind everyone of the Halloween assembly, and every classroom is decorated in some way. In my third-grade room, the decorations consist of foam bats made by my students that hang from the ceiling and window clings found in a storage cabinet. We do have three jack-o’-lanterns. The school ordered pumpkins for each classroom; two days before Halloween six of my students earned the reward of staying after school to help carve them.

The school actually celebrates Halloween on the 30th, at least this year. (Teachers have a two-day in-service on the 31st and 1st.) I spend the morning putting the finishing touches on the Halloween-themed lessons: Alphabetizing Halloween-related words, making lists of appropriate nouns, verbs, and adjectives to help the students write their own ghost stories, and writing a few Halloween word problems for math. Once the school doors open, kids start peeking in the door, eager to see my costume. I don’t know what’s funnier: Their greetings of “Hi Tintin!” or their astonishment that I’m clean-shaven for the first time since they met me.

The monthly Leadership Assembly is today, as well. Run by the high school Leadership Club, these assemblies included recognition of birthdays in the past month, accomplishments of the various sports teams, and one or two games, whose participants are chosen from the entire student body. Today’s iteration also includes a Halloween parade of all of the students who dressed up in costumes.

The instructional part of the day goes pretty well, although there are frequent interruptions as parents and guardians stop by with treats for the afternoon party. Finally, around two o’ clock, I tell the kids to put their school things away so that we can start the party.

It doesn’t matter where you go, classroom holiday parties are pretty much the same. The kids work on a Halloween word search and coloring page and watch “The Dark Crystal”. I call students up one at a time to take turns handing out the goodies donated by their families. At the same time, I’m keeping an eye on the card and board games some kids are playing at their desks. I also keep track of who passes things out. The kids who don’t have anything to share get to distribute the treats my parents sent up. Once that task is finally done, I set up a little face-painting station by my desk, and am immediately surrounded by the kids, clamoring for my attention. There’s enough time left to give a makeover to every kid who wants one before everyone pitches in to clean up. Finally, the garbage cans are overflowing and the kids are lined up, bouncing in place with the excitement of the afternoon. I let them enjoy the moment, since I don’t know how much Halloween they’ll have tomorrow. I’ve heard rumors of trick-or-treat, but who knows if they are truthful. Either way, I’ve already got some great memories of my first Tundra Halloween.

  1. Love this story! My story picks up right where yours leaves off – I’ll be going into those classrooms this afternoon and dumping all those overflowing garbage cans. Sweeping / vacuuming up popcorn and cookie crumbs, watching all the kids bursting with excitement and bustling around getting ready to leave… as I work extra hard to clean up after all those festive parties!

    • It’s thanks to wonderful staff like you that we can have those parties. All teachers appreciate your hard work!

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