Five years ago, when Chris Parente and his wife were searching for a home in Oak Park, they scouted the neighborhood for residents to learn about their community. What the Chicago couple found was that one part of Oak Park had a unique tradition that made the first day of school fun for students who attended Longfellow Elementary School.
“We had heard about this specific tradition at Longfellow where a jazz band would lead all the kids on the first day of school every year and just kind of marched in the neighborhood, which I always thought was cool,” Parente said about the annual back-to-school parade.
Though the tradition pulled the Parentes to Oak Park, it became a short-lived experience because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But with schools fully reopening for the second year in a row, Parente, a father of two Longfellow students, said it is now time to bring back the parade.
In the last few weeks, Parente has been working to organize the parade with local parents and area residents and rounding up the group of musicians. The parade is set to launch at 7:30 a.m. on Aug. 24, the first day of school for Longfellow students. It will kick off at the corner of Van Buren Street and Scoville Avenue, Parente told Wednesday Journal. Families can follow and walk behind the jazz band, which will lead them down Van Buren Street to Ridgeland Avenue and then to Longfellow, which is located at 715 Highland Ave., he added.
“Then the band will stay on the playground and play until 8 a.m. when all the kids go in,” Parente said.
Parente told the Journal he recently set up a GoFundMe page, with a $650 goal to pay the musicians for their parade performance. As of Aug. 19, Parente has collected $580 in donations and said he plans on keeping the fundraising page up until Aug. 24.
With the first day of school just days away, Parente said he and his children are excited to see the return of the parade and to help create new memories for another generation of families, especially those who may be new to Oak Park and Longfellow Elementary School.
“On the first day of school, kids are always nervous,” Parente said. “I think if you tell them, ‘Hey, we’re starting the year with a parade through our neighborhood,’ it doesn’t get much better than that. It helps kind of ease the nerves a little bit.”
For more information on the parade, visit the GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com and search “First Day of School Band – 2022.”