KETTERING, Ohio (AP) — The idea came about because Jennifer Stamper was trying to make her family’s “new normal” feel a little bit more like their old one.
Now, just before 9 a.m. on school days she and her children join others on their street who come to the end of their driveways — no closer because of social-distancing guidelines — and together, hands over hearts, recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
That’s how 9-year-old son Zach and 7-year-old daughter Juliette would start the day if they were in the classroom, but schools were ordered closed March 12 to try to stop the spread of COVID-19. Now the siblings take turns holding the flag at the end of the driveway.
The kids usually are out on the porch at 8:45, to see who’s joining them that day. Most days there are at least a couple dozen people.
“My kids, when this first started, they were having trouble sleeping at night,” said Stamper, 49. “The whole purpose of this fleeting thought of mine was let’s just have something that we do every morning at 9 o’clock that’ll be normal. And it wasn’t in any way going to be a platform, nothing political, nothing else. It was just, we love our kids and we want them to have some sense of normal.”
When schools first closed last month, Stamper floated the Pledge proposal via text to neighbors who also were establishing new routines and looking for ways to cope.
“I think it brings the neighborhood together when we’re supposed to be apart,” said Julie Ryan, a second-grade teacher who lives next door to the Stampers. This is, after all, a neighborhood where folks haven’t missed a block party in decades.
“It brings us together safely, from a distance. It promotes unity, and for the kids I think it’s good to have some sort of structure to their day.”
On a recent sunny but chilly morning, families from about a dozen houses emerged beneath flowering pear and magnolia trees. Neighbor Ann Painter brought her 15-year-old golden retriever, Kirby, her leg bandaged from an overnight visit to the emergency vet. Juliette held the flag, which usually is displayed on the Stamper’s front porch.
“Have a good morning everybody!” Stamper called to her neighbors, some of whom lingered outside afterward to catch up on each other’s lives.
After the Pledge each morning, Zach and Juliette go inside and begin two or three hours of online lessons, and their mother goes upstairs to her home office and her job as a project coordinator for a medical education consortium. Their father, Tim, a surveyor, has already gone to work by then.
“We’re in this together, we’re all here in unspoken support that we’re going to get through this,” Stamper said. “And this is OK. This is what we’re doing for now. This isn’t forever, this is what we’re doing right now, and it’s OK. That was what it was all about.”