Valentine’s Day is one of the most important days of the year for grade school students. After all, there’s nothing sweeter than passing out goodie bags and cards to your peers.
That’s why several local schools and districts are finding ways to keep the holiday, and its many in-school celebrations, going for students who opted for in-person learning this year amid the pandemic.
“I remember being an elementary kid and coming home with the big envelope that you made out of paper,” said Bob Kraemer, principal of Johnstown’s Warren Street Elementary. “And you stapled it and filled it with all your Valentine’s Day cards. It’s just a tradition that elementary kids should have. And we didn’t want to lose it.”
The Greater Johnstown School District is just one of several schools and districts in the area — including South Colonie Central School District, Saratoga Springs City School District, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District and St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish School — offering either quarantined cards or new ways to celebrate the special day.
Kraemer and Principal Cory Cotter of Pleasant Avenue Elementary are both approaching the day differently in Johnstown. Kraemer is having bags sit on window sills for each student, where students dropped off their goodies on Monday and Tuesday this week.
“So if I’m in the class, I have a bag on the window sill and the kids can drop them in,” Kraemer said. “For us, we’re really invested in making sure we’re keeping these traditions alive. So the things we had as kids, we want to make sure our students get them today.”
Cotter had students bring in cards and candies by Feb. 4 and 5, so the gifts could spend a week quarantined before distribution on Friday, with teachers later distributing them in gloves.
“This year, we’ve taken the focus away from celebrations and onto academics when the students are in person,” Cotter said. “So this is just a nice way to have a little fun and celebrate each other.”
Saratoga Springs is doing things similarly to Johnstown, with schools in the district celebrating the holiday in several different ways. Dorothy Nolan Elementary School students are making cards for essential community members in art class, Lake Avenue Elementary School has been holding a spirit week and Greenfield Elementary School had students bring their cards in 48 hours prior to celebrations.
At St. Kateri Tekakwitha in Niskayuna, Principal Tosha Grimmer said that after speaking with other local Catholic school leaders in the Albany Diocese, she decided the school would ask families to bring valentines in on Tuesday to quarantine for distribution Friday. If any students forgot their valentines, the school kept a couple extra as backup.
And students also have a few ready to share with local elders.
“Today my students are making Valentine cards for Brookdale Nursing Home across the street from us,” Kateri said Thursday. “We are delivering them tomorrow so the residents can have them on Sunday on the actual Valentine’s Day. They’re our neighbors, we miss them and it was our service project for this month.”
South Colonie is also trying to find ways to help students celebrate the holiday safely.
“Although no refreshments will be shared in the classroom due to COVID health and safety protocols, students in our elementary schools will still enjoy the magic of creating cards and crafts to show friendship and kindness to others,” said district spokesperson Richard Meddaugh.
Over in BH-BL, two elementary school teachers are pushing new and creative activities to celebrate a socially-distant candy day, while still pushing kindness.
Pashley Elementary School second-grade teacher Lindsay Miakisz, who serves as student council adviser, said that to continue the school’s tradition of having a Valentine’s Day community service project, they’ve started a “random act of kindness chain” for the building. With Random Act of Kindness Day next week, students and teachers are encouraged to write down their random acts of kindness on strips of paper, turn them in and create a chain of notes hung up in the building. The goal is to wrap the chain along the building’s entire downstairs area.
“It’s safe and fun and I have to say, I have noticed people being more kind and really being deliberate about trying to find and do things that are kind for one another,” Miakisz said.
Fourth-grade teacher Jessica Muscanelli has her classroom doing a STEM activity Friday, providing a hands-on, small group experience to help students learn and celebrate at once. They’ll be creating an incline plane chute, using materials like straws, paper plates and construction paper to get candy hearts to go down the chute and into a cup.
“They’ll come up with a plan, sketch it out and determine if it will go as planned,” Muscanelli said. “We’re just trying to have that experience for kids Friday especially, because at the end of the day, they’re still kids. They still need to be able to have these moments that they can look back on, remember and say, ‘Even though it was a year full of challenges, we still made the best of it and my teacher made me feel great.’”