Thanksgiving is a time to gather with family, lounge around the table, swap stories, eat abundantly and share laughter. Last year many families were occupied with pre-Thanksgiving concerns centered on social distancing and weighed the risks of spending time with family against contracting the coronavirus.

Becky Foley is superintendent of schools in Regional School Unit 5 (Freeport-Durham-Pownal). She can be reached at [email protected]

Many families have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. A new study published in Pediatrics reported that one U.S. child loses a parent or caregiver for every four COVID-19 deaths. The study cited that between April 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021, more than 140,000 children under age 18 in the United States lost a parent, custodial grandparent or grandparent caregiver who provided the child’s home and basic needs. The loss to children is significant. This alarming statistic illustrates that now more than ever we could all benefit from reconnecting with family this Thanksgiving.

As educators, we know the benefits of family. The phrase “it takes a village” recognizes that the child’s success in school is increased when there is a strong family/school partnership. Years of research indicate that strong relationships between schools, families and community members have a positive effect on student achievement. Collaborative school and family partnerships are associated with faster rates of literacy acquisition, increased rates of going on to secondary education and decreased rates of school dropout.

We know that school is an extension of family and we strive to create a sense of belonging in each of our schools. Over 175 schools in Maine participated in the Day of Welcome, including schools in RSU 5, on Nov. 5. The more we can expand the definition of family, the more our students will benefit. Diversity is all around us, and our experiences are enhanced when we better understand each other. At Freeport High School, students created a chalk mural in front of the school to send a message of inclusiveness. At Durham Community School, the Civil Rights Team created banners with positive messaging. Many students wore orange on this day because the color signifies inclusivity.

Author J.K. Rowling captures the meaning of family best when she says, “Family is a life jacket in the stormy sea of life.” As we continue to experience the impact of COVID-19, we have all become more aware of the sacredness and fragility of life. Thanksgiving is a time for us to celebrate that each of us is part of something bigger than ourselves. Take time to extend a life jacket to family members, parents and others during these uncertain times. And while we’re at it, let’s also come together as a community and be thankful for all that we have this Thanksgiving!

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