Letter to the Editor: Don't Penalize Students for Choosing Family Over Football

This Letter to the Editor was submitted by Mystic resident Vicki L. Jesse. Her son is a member of the pep band.

I have been somewhat unsure how to respond to this issue of a football game on Thanksgiving Day. I have been thinking about it since I received the initial letter about it [letter from the school printed below], and I still cannot resolve it in my mind so I must object. I understand that band is a commitment and that my son has obligations to fulfill, however, I cannot let this pass by without expressing my outrage at this.

No, I am not from New England. I can’t imagine I am the only non-native who is surprised by this. I don’t know if this is a New England thing or Stonington specific or how widespread this is, but I have never heard of requiring a student to be somewhere to fulfill a school obligation on a holiday where everyone else is spending time together as a family. Not only that, but you are mandating that if he chooses to spend time with his family instead of attending this game, he has to write an assignment to compensate for it, essentially penalizing him for choosing family time or penalizing him for his parents’ choice to leave the state to spend time with far-away family. What kind of message is trying to be sent here? I am absolutely appalled. I am even more surprised that you can pull together enough kids to even have a team on Thanksgiving Day.

My husband works a lot. He often works weekends. He is often gone altogether. His company respects the holiday of Thanksgiving as a family day, and he has the day off to be with his family; and you are asking us, as a family that runs our three kids around to umpteen activities for the entirety of the school year, to give up a day of rest for all of us in order to go to a high school football game, otherwise be penalized? I simply cannot express the level of my disbelief. I have no idea how long this tradition has been in place, nor do I care. The minute you glorify something as stupid as football above enjoying a nationally recognized special day with your extended family is the day that you completely lose my support. These children are not professionals who are getting paid millions to show up to a game. I can’t imagine that I am the only parent that feels affronted by this.

I hope SHS will consider revising its policies regarding this in the future. I’d like you to also note that in some communities Thanksgiving Day is considered a religious day of thanksgiving for blessings received throughout the year, and in our last home, we actually attended church on Thanksgiving morning. Please consider this your notice that my son will not be attending the game, and I am sincerely hoping that the “assignment” to make up for lack of attendance consists of nothing more challenging than coloring in a coloring in a picture of a turkey with a crayon.

Vicki L. Jesse
Mystic, Connecticut

This is the letter I am responding to:

Thanksgiving Football Game vs. Westerly - For those Who will be Present AND Absent

We will be performing for the annual Thanksgiving Day game. It is Nov. 22, at 10 a.m.  at Westerly.

While attendance at all performances is mandatory, I do understand that several of you will be traveling for the holidays. If your child will be absent due to travel, I will need you to email me to let me know. If I do not receive an email prior to the game, students will be marked as unexcused. For the families I do hear from prior to Thanksgiving, I will mark as an Incomplete. Those students will receive a written assignment to make up for the missed performance.

For everyone else that is attending, here are some details:

Bus-There will be a bus that will leave from and return to the high school. Students that are riding the bus both ways should be at the high school between 8:50-9:00am to help load instruments.

Rides-If you as a parent would like to drive your child, then I need a signed note from you stating that this is what you will be doing. If you would like to carpool, that is fine as well, but again, I will need a note stating with whom your child is riding and for drop-off, pick-up, or both. If your child rides the bus in the morning, and then you want to drive them at the end of the game, then I again will need a note stating that, or vice versa.

Instruments-the school will be open to pick up instruments for those riding the bus. If students will be getting a ride, please be sure they have their instrument with them Wednesday night.

Editor's Note: If you are a Stonington, Mystic or Pawcatuck resident and would like to submit a letter to the editor, please e-mail me at bree.shirvell@patch.com.

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Otis Adams November 21, 2012 at 12:57 AM
Like you, I am not a native New Englander. Prior to moving here 5 years ago, I had never heard of high school football on Thanksgiving. I definitely understand your point about sacrificing family time for a football game. However, I now cannot imagine Thanksgiving without the Stonington/Westerly football game. It is an experience I hope everyone new to this community gets to experience at least once. You state in your letter that you “have no idea how long this tradition has been in place” and “nor do (you) care.” I am surprised that a highly educated person, such as yourself, would write such a strongly-worded letter without first doing a little research about the history of this tradition. A simple Google search will quickly generate lots of information and is probably less challenging than using your crayons… Perhaps you and your son can use the written assignment as an opportunity to educate yourselves about the history of the Stonington/Westerly Thanksgiving Day game. Or you can take a stand and tell your son he doesn’t have to do the assignment…thus sending the message that if he doesn’t like an assignment, he doesn’t have to do it. That will serve him well in the future. I recommend the former. The Thanksgiving Day game is more than a “stupid” football game. For me, as an outsider, it has been an opportunity to become part of this community. It is a point of pride for this community and is one of the best traditions I have ever experienced.
Scott November 21, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Vicki, Don't think of the assignment as a penalty. Think of the Thanksgiving attendance as a free homework pass or an alternate assignment. Many classes assign homework over holiday weekends. I don't see that this is any different. I personally chose not to participate in band when at S.H.S. because I did not want to commit to weekend football games and Thanksgiving. I chose not to participate in college for the same reason. I did commit to a sport in college and missed every spring break and several holiday weekends. Over the last 25 years, my commitment to career has caused me to miss twice as many holidays as I have been home for. I would not change a thing. I still practice, love and support music. I cherish every moment I can be with my family and friends. Commitments are important whether to a band, team, job, marriage, or family. Hopefully, the children are learning that taking personal responsibilities and honoring commitments are character traits that will take them very far in life. There are always exceptions when commitments can not be met. A student has little choice but to spend Thanksgiving wherever their parents choose. The commitment to family is obviously more important in your case. Teach your child to understand the importance of all commitments. Encourage them to study and turn in the best assignment possible, understanding that it is not a punishment. Most of all, cherish your time together while celebrating Thanksgiving.
Cheryl November 21, 2012 at 01:14 AM
At SHS, band is an academic class that earns students credit toward graduation. If an assignment is missed, regardless of the reason, there is an expectation to make up the work. This is not a punishment. Kids who are sick, need surgery, or simply take time for a family vacation are not punished. Families who celebrate Jewish or Muslim holidays not recognized by the school district are not punished. However, the work is expected to be completed in order to pass the class. I would not recommend letting your child join drama club which requires countless hours outside of school time. And don't challenge him with any AP classes because these require work over the summer when he could be at the beach. Does anyone wonder why our nation's children are falling behind? It is sad that a parent's expectation for his or her high school aged child is to "color a turkey" in place of appropriate level make-up work. I would suggest you also instruct your child to practice asking the question, "Would you like fries with that?"
Scott November 21, 2012 at 01:22 AM
Elle T - Is the "STUDENT-athlete" in question a member of the band as a club? I believe, correct me if I am wrong Vicki, that the band is an academic class. Successful participation in this class gives the student credit toward their diploma. Assignments and required attendance at performances are all part of the curriculum. After school practices and performances are a necessary evil due to all of the students different class schedules across several grades. Attending these practices and performances is no different than spending time doing your math, English and science homework.
Valerie November 21, 2012 at 02:13 PM
I have 3 boys who all play sports and are members of the band. It's a commitment they are all willing to make and one I gladly make along with them. They work hard and receive a huge sense of achievement and camaraderie for doing so. It is their choice. The school day does not end when the final bell rings. There are many clubs, teams, groups that the students participate in that require their time on nights, weekends, holidays, etc. I applaud all students who get involved, and their parents, it's a huge commitment. If you are a band member, this includes pep band, marching band and concert band. These events are all part of their grade. If you miss an assignment, it must be made up. Thank the teachers for allowing a make up assignment, most would just give you a zero for missing it. They used to allow "excused absences" but people took advantage - claims of family obligations preventing them from marching only to be spotted at said parade as a spectator. The band cannot perform if an entire section is absent, thus the mandatory attendance. Thanksgiving day football games are held all across the state and are often a century old tradition. We just incorporated it into our tradition and look forward to it every year. For those who can't, the teachers understand which is why the alternate assignment is provided.


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