Schools use therapy-based programs for 'overwhelmed' kids

PAW PAW, Mich. — On a windy December morning in rural southwest Michigan, an American flag flapped at half-staff outside Paw Paw Early Elementary School. A social worker with a miniature therapy dog named Trixie offered comfort at the entry doors. Children wearing face masks scampered off buses into the morning chill, some stooping to pet the shaggy pup before ambling inside. Like kids in so many cities and towns around the globe, the youngsters in Michigan’s Van Buren Intermediate School District have been through a lot these past few years. A relentless pandemic that continues to disrupt classrooms, sicken friends and loved ones, and has left some district families jobless and homeless. Three student suicide attempts since in-person school resumed full-time this fall, two student suicides last year. And now, a deadly shooting just two days earlier at a school a few hours away. But with an infusion of federal COVID relief money and state funding this year plus a belief among local school officials that kids can’t succeed academically if they are struggling emotionally, every child in this district’s 11 schools is receiving extra help.

Holiday season lights a bright spot amid pandemic resurgence

CUMBERLAND, Maine — The holiday season is shining brightly during the pandemic as businesses pour money into extravagant light shows to spread cheer. From Maine to California, more lights shows have launched during the pandemic, and they’re more elaborate than ever, with sparkly spectacles that the comedic character Clark Griswold from “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation” could only dream about. “They’re exploding because people are looking for something to do. That has been a boom for this business,” said Wayne Wheeler, whose Wisconsin-based company, Reinders Inc., imports bulk lights and other gear used in the professionally produced shows. Lighting displays are a time-honored tradition in the holidays, and people often drive around various neighborhoods to check out colorful lights. The commercial operations take it to another level, with hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights, synchronized music, animated props and other glowing fixtures aimed at eliciting a “wow!”

Troops find religious exemption for vaccines unattainable

More than 12,000 military service members refusing the COVID-19 vaccine are seeking religious exemptions, and so far they are having zero success. That total lack of approvals is creating new tensions within the military, even as the vast majority of the armed forces have gotten vaccinated. The services, urgently trying to keep the coronavirus pandemic in check by getting troops vaccinated, are now besieged with exemption requests they are unlikely to approve. Meanwhile, troops claiming religious reasons for avoiding the shots are perplexed because exemptions are theoretically available, yet seem impossible to obtain.

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