Between the candy, costumes and mischief, Halloween can present a challenge for educators trying to keep students on task. Administrators are faced with a particularly tough call: Do they figure out a way to embrace costumes and related seasonal activities and incorporate them into something fun and educational, or do they bar them outright?
Make no mistake, the latter path certainly has fewer potential problems. At the very least, costumes can create distractions in the classroom, and some parents may take issue with certain outfits due to religious views. In the worst-case scenario, they can present safety and security threats — especially once masks or face paint become involved — in an era when tensions are already high due to the almost regular nature of school violence.
However, some principals still find ways to do something fun with the season. Some schools work around parents' concerns by framing a field day event or pep rally as a "fall festival." Others host a costume dance in the middle and high school grades. Some even find a way to spook up their lesson plans.
For more insight on what administrators might consider, we reached out to a handful of principals who shared their best practices.
No makeup, no masks — with staff encouraged to join the fun
At Philadelphia's Paul Robeson High School, Principal Richard Gordon IV — who was also Education Dive: K-12's 2017 Administrator of the Year — encourages everyone, including students, faculty and staff, to dress up. He only asks that they don't wear masks or costume makeup.
"It's so much fun, I have officials from [the] central office insisting on being a part of it this Halloween," Gordon said. "So, we are having a contest, and it will be moderated by potential 8th-graders applying to our school. It's gonna be fun."
Not only can the contest help students unwind from their typical school schedule, but it can also give prospective 8th-graders a better idea of the selective high school's environment, potentially increasing their enthusiasm to attend.
Turning Halloween into a peer mentoring opportunity
At Alexandria Country Day School, a private coed K-8 school in Northern Virginia, Head of School Scott Baytosh sees Halloween as a chance for older students to be mentors for younger student "buddies" they're partnered with throughout the year.
"At Halloween, older students organize activities for younger students in the afternoon, and then they dress up in costumes together for a Halloween parade," Baytosh said. "In our small K-8 community, the presence of younger students brings out the best in our older students, and with some occasional gentle coaching from adults, we are able to celebrate this holiday in a way that is appropriate and fun."
The school's student council organizes a variety of rotating activities that 8th-graders supervise, including face painting, a candy-in-the-hay search, mummy wrapping and an eyeball bounce. Following the activities, students hold a Halloween parade for parents, many of whom then supervise classroom parties at the end of the day.
"Watching 8th-graders teach the younger students the 'Thriller' dance is something to behold," Baytosh said. "Our small size, community-minded culture and high standards for behavior enable our students to continue to enjoy these fun holiday activities."
Barring costumes, giving students a chance to dress down
Florida's Osceola County School District has a basic, informal dress code that remains in place year-round. But while NeoCity Academy Principal Michael Meechin told Education Dive that means no costumes, students still get the chance to dress a bit differently than usual.
"We actually counteract costumes by allowing students to 'dress down,' or be out of dress code on Halloween," Meechin said. "We have also counteracted by introducing theme days, which might include pajama day or spirit day."
As Meechin further noted, doing so ultimately allows students to still have fun while avoiding the logistical issues Halloween costumes can potentially present.