Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Halloween celebrations shift at Stafford Primary


Schools tradition changes but continues thanks to parent support

Classroom holiday parties are a beloved tradition at Stafford Primary School. So when Principal Jen Freeborn announced a change to the way the school would celebrate, voices rose in protest.

The somewhat surprising thing was that the loudest protests came from parents, not students.

Freeborn“My vision for Stafford these last three years is for students to feel significant, valued, cared for ... first and foremost, as learners,” Freeborn said in a letter to parents earlier this month. “We want our celebrations during the school year to honor all families and those values — this is our collective responsibility. With those beliefs and values, we are making a few shifts when it comes to parties/celebrations at Stafford.”

Following a trend in the school district, Freeborn planned to have students at Stafford begin celebrating milestones of learning and growth instead of traditional holidays.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - From left, Lizzie Rice, Mia DePetris and Cynthia Yoder dress up for their kindergarten Halloween party in 2012.The school’s longstanding tradition of costumes, parties and hallway parades for Halloween makes it unique in the city.

Students at Bolton gather for Pumpkin Palooza one evening before Halloween, and Oct. 31 is just a normal school day. In the winter, Bolton students participate in a Celebration of Giving, parading through the community with firefighters and police officers to celebrate the food the school has donated to the food bank through collections and its own garden.

At Cedaroak Park, an October bingo night gives students the opportunity to wear costumes to school one night. A winter craft fair is scheduled for after school shortly before the winter break. Some classrooms hold celebrations, usually as extensions of their curriculum.

Sunset celebrations fall into three categories: traditional classroom parties celebrating harvest, winter holidays and friendship; celebrations sponsored by the Parent Teacher Student Organization such as pizza bingo night and the barn blast; and school-sponsored “learning opportunities,” which Principal Lisa Hawking called “opportunities for children to showcase the product of deep learning processes.”

“All three types have their value and important part in our school year and traditions,” Hawking said.

Students at Trillium Creek celebrate learning with classroom celebrations. The school celebrates together on two occasions, celebrating gratitude in November and friendship in February.

“As our world language program grows, we will also be acknowledging special celebrations around the world,” Principal Charlotte Morris said.

“Some of our classrooms hold harvest celebrations,” Willamette Principal David Pryor said. “We try to tie such celebrations to student work/achievement as much as possible.”

Willamette students are allowed to wear costumes to a PTA-sponsored pizza bingo night, and most classrooms celebrate with a winter party and Valentine’s Day friendship celebrations.

“I think our best celebrations are directly tied to student work and/or the development of strong ... character,” Pryor said. “For example, one of our teachers invites all his parents into the classroom at the end of the year for two powerful presentations of student prose, poetry and music. It brings tears to my eyes every time.” 

At Stafford, Freeborn heard from parents who supported the move away from holiday celebrations and from those who urged her to add even more holiday celebrations to the school, to promote diversity, acceptance and knowledge of other cultures. She also heard from parents who weren’t ready to let Stafford’s Halloween tradition fade away. A petition circulated among parents, asking Freeborn to reconsider.

A compromise ensued. Classroom parties will continue this year — minus the costumes. The school’s parent group stepped up to provide a costumed Halloween party the day before Halloween, an early release day this year.

Danny Schreiber is one parent who supported keeping Halloween celebrations at Stafford.

“My support is not necessarily for ‘the parties’ at school,” he said. “I know we have too much candy and sugar at our house already. ... What my kids care about is sharing a cultural experience with their friends in a safe, secure environment.”

The Halloween tradition may look a bit different at Stafford this year, but for now the school will continue to provide students with a safe, secure place to celebrate the holiday.

Kate Hoots can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 112. Follow her on Twitter, @CommuniKater.