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Winter break starts Wednesday, December 21st for Alpena Public Schools, and here at Thunder Bay Junior High, the festivities have commenced. The last few days before holiday vacation means movies in class, Christmas sweaters, and a jubilant, impatient look ahead to those glorious two weeks off.

“The kids are ready to have some time off, we’re ready to have some time off, and they’re just full of cheer, and they like to always wish ‘happy break’ or ‘happy holidays,'” says Alissa Miller, a math teacher at Thunder Bay Junior High.

For some teachers, it’s not exactly holly jolly times. The stress of the winter months and the planning for the rest of the school year looms large after those couple weeks.

“After the holiday, it’s kind of a long stretch from coming back from Christmas break until spring break, and it’s winter and it’s cold, and we’re inside a lot, so I think it’s just really important to try and keep engagement as high as we can,” says Dr. Brandy Shooks, a special education instructor for English at Thunder Bay Junior High.

The stresses of the winter months can become grueling. The days are longer, the weather is colder, and the sun doesn’t come out as often. Some teachers, like Dr. Shooks and Miller, try to keep their students and themselves engaged in school so they don’t feel those stresses as often.

“I think it’s important to always have conversation about how we’re feeling,” said Dr. Shooks. “So something I do in my classroom as kind of a warm up is a mood meter check–in, it’s a really small thing, they fill out a Google form and they tell me how they’re feeling that day, so it’s a way for me to pick up if a student is having a bad day, or if they’re struggling with something, so I can talk to them, or get them whatever help they might need.”

Miller says she thinks the schools have done a good job of providing resources to those who may need some help in those times.

“I feel like we are always improving in that area, it is a stressful time for us all,” she said. “Especially those winter months, but I think that we are building up a really good system to help support our students and our staff.”

Students return from winter break on January 3, and end the semester just a couple weeks later.