The Oskaloosa Christian School spreads holiday cheer, while also maintaining social distancing, in the community’s annual Festival of Lights Christmas Parade. This year, the district took home the first place People’s Choice Award for its uniquely decorated school bus.
For the past 20-plus years, the Oskaloosa Chamber of Commerce has held a Festival of Lights Christmas Parade. Normally, local residents gather along the parade route while the floats drive through the community. But with COVID-19 restrictions in place across Iowa, Principal Don Mitchell said the event had to be altered.
This year, the community held a “reverse parade,” in which the floats remained stationary and the patrons drove along the parade route to take in the floats. Mitchell said Oskaloosa Christian Schools has had a float in the parade for as long as he can recall.
Usually, he said, the district decorates a flatbed trailer pulled by a pickup truck. Students would cram inside the trailer and wave to the community as they passed. However, this year, floats had a two-person maximum with riders needing to be adequality spaced apart and wearing masks.
As a nine-member float committee was stringing lights on a school bus for this years’ theme “Twinkling Twenties,” one parent volunteer had an idea.
Over the summer, the district had received a $10,000 anonymous donation with the premise that the district would hold a fundraising drive to see if it could raise an additional $10,000, which it did. Oskaloosa Christian Schools used the money to purchase 60 new iPads for kindergarten and first-grade students, and a few were donated to their second-grade classrooms as well.
While the district did start the new school year in-person on Aug. 23, and has been mostly in-person since. There had been one instance iof a teacher testing positive and the entire grade had to quarantine and attend class virtually.
The private district of one school building and 175 students has been continuously thinking of ways to thank the donor since. “We had also been looking for ways to basically express to the donor through various opportunities, including social media, showing that the kids were using the iPads to good effect,” Mitchell explained. “And to show that the donation was being well used.”
On Dec. 1, the committee got together to decorate the float, when parent volunteer Lindsay Watts suggested installing the iPads in the windows to show videos of the children waving. Over the course of the rest of the week, Mitchell said students were pulled out of class and recorded on camera waving. The videos were loaded onto iPads in a way to avoid seeing the same student in multiple bs windows. Mitchell said 21 different students were able to be seen at one time.
Because the committee also was comprised of people with different professional backgrounds, such as engineers and farmers, ideas flowed easily. The bus windows were backlit to allow the iPads to be seen, even in the dark. The iPads were also properly secured in each windowsill, to prevent them from falling.
“So, obviously, it fits perfectly in the sense of how much time people spent in front of computer screens and whatnot [this year,]” Mitchell said. “It really was just the perfect storm. I mean honestly, the idea was brilliant. Especially given everything we’ve gone through this year. Having the right people in the right places … it couldn’t have come together any better. Right people, right place, right time, right idea.”
Following the parade on Dec. 6, community members voted online for their favorite float. Oskaloosa Christian School took first place with the People’s Choice Award.
“The cool part was being able to announce it to the student body,” Mitchell said “… we were able to tell the kids over the intercom that we had won first place. The kids were able to take a sense of pride because they had something to do with it. I basically just thanked them for their willingness to participate, and then let them know that we won first place and you could hear them cheer all the way down the hallway.”
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Mitchell added that it was challenging at first to make it look like a lot of people were involved with preparing the float. However, with the iPads, he said the feeling was accomplished.
“[In] what’s been a very difficult year for a lot of people, if we can give them even a couple of minutes of joy, it’s worth it,” Mitchell concluded.
Editor’s Note: Is your school district taking part in any holiday celebrations? Send pictures and comments on how you are spreading holiday cheer to firstname.lastname@example.org.