After a tumultuous year and a half for schools around the country, Flossmoor District 161 families and other members of the community came out to “Chalk the Walk” to welcome students back to in-person learning this fall.
The district’s annual event took place from 4 p.m. to dusk Wednesday, Aug. 11, outside all of the district’s schools. People were asked to decorate the walkways around the buildings with messages of hope, inspiration and encouragement for students and teachers to find when they returned to school the next morning following their summer break. Folks were also welcome to leave messages near their homes or businesses.
Jacqueline Renko, assistant principal for Western Avenue Elementary School, said it is a great opportunity for the community to come together to show support at the start of the school year.
“Anyone that wants to leave a positive message for the kids I think is the best way to start the school year,” Renko said. “It’s going to brighten their day. It’s a tradition.”
Mayor Michelle Nelson stopped by Western Avenue Aug. 11 to leave a positive message on the pavement. Renko noted Flossmoor police also came out to leave messages for the students, but those were unfortunately washed out by the rain earlier that day.
While severe storms passed through the area during the day and threatened again overnight, the clouds lifted early enough Aug. 11 that Chalk the Walk otherwise went off without a hitch. Among those who came out to decorate were Kelli Nickols and her children, Liam Nickols, 2, and Djimon Shakoor, who is entering fourth grade.
“We’re good community members,” Kelli Nickols said of taking part outside of Heather Hill Elementary School. “We like to be involved as much as we can. It’s a nice day out.”
At Heather Hill, community members were greeted by a waving, inflatable tube character as well as Kelly Philbin, who handed out chalk, bracelets and more on behalf of the Girl Scouts of America. Philbin’s unit serves girls in Homewood, Flossmoor and Glenwood. Her presence was in part to remind families the Girl Scouts are out there, meeting outdoors as safely as possible.
“There are things to do,” she said. “We need to be social while taking safety precautions.”
But Philbin also wanted to be there to support the students, who she said have had a particularly tough time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The kids missed out on a lot last year, especially the kindergarteners,” Philbin said. “They never got that experience.”
Terra Dailey brought her fifth-grader, Preston, and first-grader, Brooklyn, out to Heather Hill for Chalk the Walk. Dailey, part of the school’s parent-teacher organization, said her family has taken part in Chalk the Walk in years prior. But being out there Aug. 11 was extra-special for the family following no in-person school for her children last year.
“It’s Brooklyn’s first time at the school this year, because we had [the pandemic] last year,” Terra said. “I just wanted to get her acclimated with the school and to meet some of the teachers.”
Gavarae Jones Dokun came out to Western Avenue with her fourth-grader Avery Jones. Avery drew the Wolves mascot, and Gavarae said it was nice to be back for Chalk the Walk.
“We didn’t get a chance to do it last year,” she said. “We’re definitely looking forward to as much normalcy as we can bring for this new school year and bringing kids back. We were excited. We had it on the calendar and didn’t want to miss it.”
Photos by Bill Jones/H-F Chronicle.