From the Volusia County School Board

Every time the holiday season comes around, I look forward to those moments when I can celebrate with my family. It is a time to slow down, reconnect, and create new memories. As I prepare for visits and decorate our home, I become nostalgic, recalling past holidays when my daughters were still young. I am grateful that my husband and I, both educators, could spend time with the girls and create memories that we continue to cherish today.

This past year has been challenging for many families still grappling with the effects of a global pandemic. Parents shared with me their stories about losing a loved one or expressed anxiety about the state of the world. I listened and offered what words of comfort I could. As a school board member, that is one of the responsibilities of serving the community, to provide some hope and make positive changes where I can. And that, I believe, is key–as part of a community, we are all interconnected. What happens in one part of our community still affects us somehow.

This holiday, I encourage you to reconnect with your community and help in any way you can. It may not be easy considering all the commitments we have today. Often, we don’t have enough time for ourselves or our families! However, reaching out to your community doesn’t need to be complicated nor stressful. It can be as simple as calling a neighbor and checking in to see how they’re doing. Buying a few extra canned goods and donating them to your local pantry is another way to help. Maybe you can volunteer one day or an hour at some local community organization. In Volusia County, for example, there is Volunteer Volusia where they post projects for local volunteers.

Reconnecting with your community can bring some pleasant surprises. It is also suitable for children to see the importance of community involvement and making a difference. It’s an opportunity to teach them how we all are connected in some way and can work together to make our communities better.

I wish you all a safe and happy holiday season as you celebrate with your loving families, joyful friends, and memorable community experiences.

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Limited Access - 6 tips for teaching children social media safety

Social media can be a great resource for kids to connect to the world around them.

It can increase their creativity by allowing them to make music and podcasts, share art, improve their health and find and converse with like-minded people and groups.

But social media has its downside.

Without the proper privacy settings, restrictions and parental monitoring, children can access whoever and whatever they want. They also can leave behind a permanent record of their whereabouts, photos, posts and more that potential employers or universities can find.

Online shaming and bullying take many forms on the internet, and children and teens can feel the effects very strongly. In some cases, cyber harassment and excessive use can lead to stress-related disorders like anxiety and depression.

So, how are parents supposed to keep their kids safe in a world where nearly everything is online? Try to think about it like teaching teens how to drive responsibly.

Since social media doesn’t come with a standard user’s guide and its so-called “rules” are complicated (to say the least), here are some helpful tips for parents when deciding to integrate social media into their child’s life:

  1. Learn the language. Educate yourself on the terms being used frequently by your children and their peers. If you know what the words and abbreviations mean (“DMing,” for example, is sending someone a private message on social media), you’re better equipped to know what exactly your child is doing online.
  2. Issue a learner’s permit. You wouldn’t allow your child to start driving without any experience or knowledge of the rules of the road, right? Social media should be approached in the same fashion. There should be certain restrictions in the beginning, including limits on screen time and access to certain sites/devices and passwords. When they prove they’re responsible, they earn more freedom, access and independence.
  3. Teach safety. Remind your children that online friends can still be strangers. Children, especially younger ones, should never be allowed to meet an internet “friend” for the first time in person, alone. If your child begins talking about an online friend, it may be beneficial to follow along to make sure the relationship is appropriate and your child isn’t in danger.
  4. Read the fine print. There are numerous apps, devices and privacy settings. Not all will be appropriate for your child. It’s important to read the information provided by the app store and service provider, monitor use and slowly add more access, when appropriate.
  5. Do it together. Communicate with your children about how they are using social media. Ask questions about games they enjoy, people they talk to, sites they frequent or channels they follow. Better yet, sit down with them and visit these sites together.
  6. Be a good role model. How often are you on your phone/tablet? Do you check Facebook at the dinner table or in the middle of a conversation? Children take cues from their parents, even when it comes to social media practices. Model how to use social media appropriately.

Let’s face it. Children will slip up while using social media. A parent’s normal reaction would be to remove access completely. However, this limits a child’s ability to learn from his or her mistakes. If you find yourself having to consistently set social media limits with your child, it may be time to close his or her accounts for a while. In some cases, professional behavioral health intervention may be needed.

It’s in a parent’s best interest to help their children navigate all aspects of social media, including the good, the bad and the ugly. When in doubt, trust your parenting skills and remember it’s all about communication, supervision, consistency and consequences.

First published in Juice.

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St. Johns County School District - December 2021

On behalf of the St. Johns County School District School Board and staff, I want to wish you all a wonderful and joyful holiday season. This is an inspiring time of year in our schools with students, teachers and staff putting in every effort to finish the semester strong while eagerly anticipating a well-deserved break.

I am filled with hope as we approach the holidays and start off the new year leaving behind some of the most challenging times in recent history. I encourage all of you to take this winter break to rest, relax, enjoy time spent with loved ones and renew your spirit. May you be able to unplug, engage in healthy activities and rejoice in the warmth and happiness of the holiday season.   

As I visit schools this time of the year, I am witness to the spirit of giving across the district. Our schools have continued to provide opportunities to teach the importance of citizenship and helping others in need. I am always humbled by the compassion and empathy our students have toward others. Our faculty, staff and families have worked so hard to stir a passion of generosity among the next generation and it is evident in the activities taking place in our schools. Over the last month, I have seen schools collaborating with one another through toy and clothing drives, supporting local pet shelters, giving to children’s hospitals, donating to local food pantries and taking time to plan ways to give back to some of our most disadvantaged students and families.

I am grateful to our community partners and faith-based organizations that support the school district throughout the season. Each year, Somebody Cares St. Augustine collects and distributes winter coats for students through a program called “Coats 4 Kids.” Hugs St. Johns partnered with our schools to serve over 1,000 students with “No Hungry Holiday” bags. St. Johns CARES giving tree collected and donated over $15,000 in wish list items last year for students and community members with needs that were vast and varied.

Our ASSIST program has more than 650 homeless students identified to date and is currently working with the St. Johns Fire Rescue Department and the “Firefighters for Families” program which collects and distributes toys, clothing, sports equipment, etc. to local families. Many schools have clubs and community organizations that are supporting families directly. If you have interest in supporting a family during the holidays with gifts, food or other items, please contact our student services department at (904) 547-7797.

May the blessings of the season fill you and your loved ones with joy during this special season. I continue to be humbled and honored to serve as your superintendent and look forward to continuing our learning and achievement in the new semester.

Tim Forson
Superintendent of Schools

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Book Nook - December 2021


Two Lists for Christmas

by Lisa Pieterse-Carson, Illustrated by Ethan Roffler

Ages 1-9

Christmas is an exciting time of year filled with wonder and enchantment and Two Lists for Christmas does a fantastic job of demonstrating the thrill of the holiday. Six friends are gathered to celebrate and to create lists for Christmas when the unthinkable happens: Santa crashes! Setting aside their lists, the friends work together to get Santa and his reindeer back in the air. Along the way they each learn about their own personal strengths and a valuable lesson about the joy of helping others.

Lisa Pieterse-Carson has done a wonderful job of creating a diverse cast of characters in her story. From a slow sloth named Sammy to a resourceful monkey named Millie each character learns about their strengths when they help Santa and his crew get back into the skies. In addition to learning to work together, the characters learn about the gift of giving and how doing something nice for others makes them “feel good and happy inside.”

Review courtesy of

5 More Sleeps ‘til Christmas

Written by Jimmy Fallon, Illustrated by Rich Deas

Ages 3-6

Just 5 more sleeps ’til Christmas!

Can you believe it’s here?

I know that Santa’s coming soon ’cause I’ve been good all year.

Everyone who grew up celebrating Christmas remembers the excitement that built up to the most magical day of the year. But why not make the last week until Christmas more fun by counting how many sleeps until the arrival of Santa and his reindeer?

My Big Wimmelbook Christmas Village

Illustrated by Monika Parciak

Ages 3-7

In these one-of-a-kind picture books, every page is bursting with life—and tons to discover! Children as young as age 2 have a blast pointing out recognizable things—a blue tricycle, a hungry dog, a piggyback ride—while older kids can follow the star characters from page to page, telling their stories along the way. 

In this special holiday-themed Wimmelbook, it’s Christmas time! Christmas Eve, to be exact. From the outdoor ice rink to the bustling holiday market, a busy cast of characters is having a great time as they celebrate by skating, sledding, shopping and singing away. But will the little boy get the tractor he wants for Christmas? And where is Santa? Kids follow along and find out in My Big Wimmelbook—Christmas Village.

Shmelf the Hanukkah Elf

by Greg Wolfe, Illustrated by Howard McWilliam

Ages 3-6

In this delightfully inventive holiday tale, an elf named Shmelf takes a journey from the North Pole . . . and discovers all the joys of Hanukkah.

Shmelf is one of Santa’s most important elves. He’s part of the List Checking department, and he makes sure all the good boys and girls get their presents! But when Shmelf finds out that some children are missing from Santa’s list, he goes to investigate.

What Shmelf uncovers is Hanukkah, a wondrous and joyful holiday that Jewish families celebrate each year. As Shmelf observes a family lighting the menorah, playing dreidel and hearing the Hanukkah story, he sees how special the traditions of the holiday truly are–and he wants to be a part of it! Luckily, Santa just might have a special role in mind for Shmelf . . . The rich traditions of Hanukkah come to life in this whimsical and magical story that’s perfect for the holiday season.

Happy Llamakkah!

Written by Laura Gehl, Illustrated by Lydia Nichols

Ages 3-5

Celebrate Hanukkah with the Llama family in this joyful, rhyming picture book. Follow along with the Llama family’s Hanukkah traditions as they light their menorah, spin the dreidel, fry latkes and more. Laura Gehl’s lively rhyming text and Lydia Nichols’s vibrant illustrations make for a festive read. The book also features kid-friendly back matter, with expanded information on the holiday’s history and traditions.

Elementary Aged

The Worst Christmas Book in the Whole Entire World

by Joey Acker

Ages 3-9

Jingle bells…this book smells…

After being in the worst AND the scariest book in the whole entire world, Nameless just can’t catch a break! Now he’s in the WORST CHRISTMAS book! Will his Christmas be ruined? Will your Christmas be ruined?? How can a book about the most magical time of the year possibly be so terrible???

The Worst Christmas Book in the Whole Entire World is a humorous and witty tale for young and seasoned readers. Deck the halls this season and get into the holiday spirit with a book so bad it might actually be good…

The humor in The Worst Book in the Whole Entire World will resonate and connect with readers who are fans of The Book With No Pictures, Elephant and Piggie, and the Pigeon books. Be prepared for smiles, silliness and laughter!

There Was a Cold Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow!

by Lucille Colandro , Illustrated by Jared Lee

There was a cold lady who swallowed some snow. I don’t know why she swallowed some snow. Perhaps you know. This time, the old lady is swallowing everything from snow to a pipe, some coal, a hat and more! With rollicking, rhyming text and funny illustrations, this lively version will appeal to young readers with every turn of the page. And this time, there’s a surprise at the end no reader will be able to guess!

How to Catch an Elf

by Adam Wallace, Illustrated by Andy Elkerto

Ages 4-10

From the New York Times bestselling How to Catch series comes a hilarious Christmas adventure, perfect for stocking stuffers! 

It’s Christmas Eve and an elf is on the loose… in YOUR house! Do you have what it takes to catch him? Follow along in this fun holiday story as a mischievous elf causes chaos Christmas Eve! Filled with zany traps, vibrant illustrations, STEAM concepts and even Santa Claus himself, this Christmas picture book for kids is guaranteed to become a new holiday tradition!

Little Red Sleigh

Written by Erin Guendelsberger, Illustrated by Elizavita Tretyakova

Ages 4-8

The Little Red Sleigh has one big dream — to one day become Santa’s big red sleigh! But all her life, she’s been told she’s too small, she’s too young, she can’t fly and she certainly can’t meet Santa. Well, this Christmas, with the help of some friends, she’s determined to do the impossible. Little Red Sleigh is a heartwarming children’s Christmas book you’ll want to read again and again. Full of winter joy and Christmas magic, this Christmas book for kids will remind you that no dream is out of reach if you believe

The Christmas Pig

by J.K. Rowling

One boy and his toy are about to change everything…

Jack loves his childhood toy, Dur Pig. DP has always been there for him, through good and bad. Until one Christmas Eve something terrible happens — DP is lost. But Christmas Eve is a night for miracles and lost causes, a night when all things can come to life… even toys. And Jack’s newest toy — the Christmas Pig (DP’s replacement) — has a daring plan: Together they’ll embark on a magical journey to seek something lost and to save the best friend Jack has ever known.

Editors Letter

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

We all know that song, and I feel it every year about this time – the excitement of seeing family and friends, feeling the joy of the season and preparing for a new year, a fresh start. Last year many of us celebrated in a smaller setting than usual, and now that things have opened up, we have the opportunity to see and spend time with more loved ones. We are looking forward to that.

But, as we go back to normal, don’t be in a hurry to shed off the simplicity of what we did last year. It was nice to let our expectations be tempered and, as parents, do a little less of what was expected and a little more of what was truly important to our families. I hope looking forward, you keep only the best traditions that allow you peace during this season.

We have assembled some great articles for you to continue to keep this in mind. Articles to help you keep your children calm and in control at family gatherings, alternative gifts that stray from the catalogs we all receive, a compilation of area holiday events and light displays and more. Don’t forget to take a look at our book nook for suggestions on what to curl up and read with your children. They are never too old to sit and read with you.

As we close 2021 and look toward 2022, we wish you peace, love and prosperity.

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Around the World, a Holiday Tour

Christmas on Paulista Avenue, São Paulo, Brazil.

It’s brandy and a mince pie for Santa in Britain, while some families leave carrots for reindeer. Australians leave out beer with cookies for the man in the red suit, while other countries leave nothing at all.

In Europe, many countries recognize St. Nicholas Day as a major celebration, while New Year’s is a bigger observance in other parts of the world. With Florida’s population exploding, many people are incorporating unique perspectives into a most festive season. Here’s some expat insight from residents in the surrounding counties explaining the nuances that allow their cultures to shine during the holidays. 


Menu and Traditions: A traditional menu in Ukraine includes a full feast with caviar, mashed potatoes, cabbage salads, beet salad with pickled herring, potato salad, baked pork or any meat, fish and champagne.  

Pine trees are put up on New Year’s Eve. Santa Claus comes on New Year’s Eve and puts presents under the tree. These are opened after midnight. Trees are decorated and candles lit. The New Year’s party continues all night long.

Christmas is strictly a religious observance on January 6, known as the epiphany, to acknowledge the birth of Jesus Christ. Over 80% of Ukrainians are Christians, with the majority practicing the Eastern Orthodox religion. Santa is not part of this celebration; people attend church services. 

As for Santa: Santa travels differently in Ukraine; with three white horses and a long, warm coat. Sometimes he is alone, other times he has a young woman companion who is his granddaughter. There are no sweet cookies or luscious milk to drink. Instead, Saint Nicholas is showered with shots of vodka during his travels to help warm him up and keep his nose from turning red or blue from the frosty air.

-Viktoriya, Ukraine native in Florida.

Christmas market in Lviv, Ukraine


Menu and Traditions: Though ham and turkey are staples for the Christmas holiday in Mexico, this country leaves the gravy behind, taking the bird to a different level with a mole; a sauce that has unique nuances depending on the region in which it’s prepared. Tamales, atole and ponche are also traditional food items popular for the holidays and are found during the posadas as well.

Atole, a thick drink like hot chocolate, is made with masa harina, a cornmeal that is also used to make tortillas. Ponche is a hot fruity punch made with fruits like prunes, guava, apples and pears as well as hibiscus, cane sugar and spices. It can be served with or without alcohol.

While trees are up for Christmas, a bigger focus is the nativity display. Many Mexicans are Christians with over 75% distinguishing as Catholics. Gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve, which is when families get together to celebrate. Children leave milk and cookies for Santa. On Three Kings Day, January 5, children leave their shoes hoping for gifts and money. 

-Laura, from Mexico City, Mexico


Menu and Traditions: Brazil’s Christmas menu is similar to a Thanksgiving meal in the U.S. It’s a delicious spread of turkey, gravy, ham, stuffing, etc. However, the country is home to diverse groups of people, who also have entwined their heritage with Brazil’s customs. “My favorite is turkey, [which] for me tastes like Christmas,” says Gisele of her native country’s tradition.

Nearly 90% of Brazilians identify as Christians. It’s summer in Brazil during the holiday season, making beach trips a staple event. Houses are decorated inside and out, complete with trees, lights and festive wreaths. Decorations are put up in the beginning of December and left up until January 6. Nativity scenes are immensely popular, known as Presepio, and are set up in churches starting at the beginning of December. Santa Claus is known as Papai Noel or Bom Velhinho, which translates to “Good Old Man.” Children often leave a sock in hopes Papai Noel will exchange it for a present. Amigo secreto, or secret friends, are immensely popular in social circles and work groups.

Families get together and celebrate on Christmas Eve. At midnight, gifts are exchanged. Santa makes an appearance for all to see, but no treats are left for Father Christmas.

-Gisele, Brazil native in Florida

Christmas market in Wroclaw, Poland


Menu and Traditions: 

Wigilia, a traditional Christmas Eve vigil and supper, is observed in Poland. Many attribute the entire 24th of December as Wigilia, encompassing the tradition of midnight Mass in the predominately Roman Catholic country. Many fast before serving 12 dishes during dinner. These items represent the 12 Apostles. 

Historically, Saint Nicholas would bring gifts on December 6. However, in different families and communities, he sometimes appears on both December 6 and 25. 

Pierogis are dumplings made from farmer’s cheese, onions and potatoes. Families make a light beet soup called borscht. A main signature dish is golumpki, which are stuffed cabbage rolls.

Meat is left out of the evening meal, though fish may be served. Before dinner, a wafer is shared, giving each other best wishes. 

“Our Polish relatives send the sacrament from Poland and as we go around the table breaking off a piece of the Host (a wafer blessed by a priest thought to have undergone transubstantiation). We tell of what we are thankful for and our prayers for the next year. It’s a great time. Then some of us try to make it to midnight Mass,” says Kim, a Polish American with family in Krakow, Poland.


Menu and Traditions:

Though a majority of Lebanese practice Islam, nearly 40% of Lebanese distinguish themselves as Christian. Lebanese Catholics decorate Christmas trees and set up nativity scenes on December 5, right after St. Barbara’s Day. Catholic families also attend midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Visits to family and friends begin Christmas Day and continue through the New Year. Streets throughout towns and cities are decorated with festive designs, beginning in mid-November.

The holiday is focused on family, food, religion and celebrating the birth of Jesus. Santa is honored as a saint. As such, it is customary for a family member to dress up as Santa, giving out gifts after dinner and before mass. 

A traditional menu consists of several courses:

Cold mezza: tabouli, fattoush (bread salad), kibbi naye (raw meat), hummus, baba ghanouj (eggplant dip with garlic, lemon and tahini) and grape leaves. 

Hot mezza: fried cheese rolls, fried kibbi, sambousek (meat pies), makanek (Lebanese style sausages), soujok (spicey lamb and beef sausage) and fries. 

Main Meal: either chicken or lamb with rice and a plethora of nuts. 

Dessert: Buche de Noel, or Yule Log cake and Mighli, a rice pudding spiced with cinnamon and caraway, with optional toppings like coconut, pistachios and almonds. It is a traditional dessert to celebrate a new baby or Christmas. 

There are also Christmas chocolates, sugar-coated almonds, and liquor shots as well as Lebanese coffee. It is courteous and essential to present a gift to the household you are visiting. An older tradition was for the younger siblings to journey first to visit their parents, then the eldest sibling.  

Courtesy of Sherine Akl and Helen Attieh, owners of A Taste of Lebanon, a catering company honoring their heritage and designed to bring authentic Lebanese cuisine to Northeast Florida

Christmas tree at Byblos in Lebanon


Menu and Traditions:

Holiday celebrations begin on December 7, the day of the Immaculate Conception, continuing until January 6, Three Kings Day.  Although gifts are usually exchanged on Christmas Eve, it is Niño Dios who distributes gifts to children. 

New Year’s Eve is also an incredible celebration in Colombia. According to Viviana, “They go all out. It’s even bigger than Christmas.” In the U.S., most people get together with friends on New Year’s. However, in Colombia, it’s customary to spend this evening exclusively with family, usually at home with a lot of music and dancing. Unique to Colombians, on New Year’s Eve, many eat 12 grapes at midnight to bring good luck. Some also walk around the block with a suitcase to entice a productive year of travel.

Pork roast, ajiaco (chicken and potato soup) or tamales are popular for mealtime. Many Colombian families make a brothy-type soup called “consome” to have ready for the evening to help with the hangover, especially for New Year’s festivities. 

-Courtesy of Viviana, Colombian-America

Puerto Rico

Menu and Traditions:

On the island of Puerto Pico, the holiday season begins right after Thanksgiving, making it one of the longest celebrations in the world. Decorations are put up at this time and left until mid-January for all to enjoy.

Parrandas are a popular occurrence. Friends and families gather quietly outside a house late in the evening with instruments to sing traditional carols. The intention is to burst into lively song surprising, and potentially waking, the household with merriment. As Puerto Rican native Mayredlis explains, “Parrandas are Christmas carols on steroids.” On Three King’s Day (January 6), children leave shoeboxes with grass for the camels as well as milk or water for the kings.

Traditionally, a jubilant, music-filled festival called las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian signifies the end of the holiday season.

A signature celebratory menu consists of rice with pigeon peas (arroz con gandules), pork roast (lechon asado), potato salad, boiled pig stomach (cuajito) with boiled green banana and morcilla (blood sausages with rice). Flan and tres leches are classic options for dessert.

-Courtesy of Mayredlis, Puerto Rican native

Christmas tree lined road in San Juan, Puerto RIco

Kindly note, although these topics were researched, they ultimately represent the experiences of Florida residents either native to the respective region or with family in the respective country. We understand traditions, values and faiths within each area vary. The insights provided are specific to individuals and their knowledge of the respective region.

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