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The City Journals

Students celebrate holidays with service, not sugar

Feb 11, 2020 01:43PM ● By Jet Burnham

Navigator Pointe Academy students create bookmarks to donate instead of having a holiday party. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Each class at Riverside Elementary is making Valentine’s Day 100 times more special by doing 100 acts of kindness in the weeks leading up to the holiday.

“Valentines become kindness, not—think about this as a second grader—all lovey-dovey,” said second grade teacher Zelda McAllister. “The kids get excited watching for kindness so they can report it.”

Many local schools are choosing to replace typical holiday celebrations with service-related traditions.

While most students spent the day before Winter Break decorating cookies and playing games, those at two local charter schools were serving their community. 

“We don’t do parties; we do service projects,” said Judy Farris, director at Navigator Pointe Academy.

Each student at Navigator Pointe brought a stuffed animal and a book or journal to donate to Utah's family sanctuaries for displaced families. They spent the day decorating the journals, writing personal cards and crafting bookmarks for them as well.

“I feel happy giving to another person who does not have what I have,” said fifth grader Zoey Humphries.

Eighth and ninth grade art students created a “Book of Inspiration” for those staying at the sanctuary. They filled it with artwork and quotes of hope, perseverance and finding joy. They also knit winter hats for them.

Keegan McPherron, an eighth grader, said it feels good to serve others.

“Everyone should take every chance they can to give back to others,” he said.

Junior high teacher Jackie Casdorph said the school tradition helps students develop sympathy, gratitude and a love of serving others.

“I think they learn to be a little more grateful for what they do have,” she said.

Emily Otteson has seen how the tradition has affected her children. This year, her son, a fourth grader, insisted on selecting the book he wanted to donate on his own, which made the experience more meaningful.

“It gives them the opportunity to share what they have with others,” Otteson said. “It gives them an opportunity to see that other children have a need that they can help fulfill.”

Farris said many alumni still make donations and are involved in the tradition.

“It’s contagious and heartwarming,” she said.

At Hawthorn Academy’s West Jordan campus, the day before Winter Break is also a day of service. Fourth grade teacher Kathy Pretell prefers that kids are focused on service instead of a sugary holiday party.

“This really puts the emphasis back on helping the community and being better citizens,” she said. “It supports so many more people rather than gives them a sugar fest.”

Fourth graders tied fleece blankets and wrote personal notes to be given to Bikers Against Child Abuse at an assembly later this month. BACA members give the blankets and cards to children who feel threatened or intimidated.

Fourth grader Noa Kerrigan was excited the blankets were going to a good cause.

“It’s so nice and soft—one kid’s going to love that blanket,” Noa said as he placed a blanket into the donation bag. He said he loves the special blanket his grandma made for him so he knows these children will feel special when they get the blankets he and his classmates made for them.

“I feel really happy that they’ll know that they’re loved,” Noa said. 

Sixth grade students tied blankets 50 blankets for Primary Children’s Medical Center.

“They’re doing something for kids their own age,” said sixth grade teacher Deborah Su'a. Many of her students have been given a similar donated blanket while at the hospital for a broken bone or surgery.

Other classes spent the day serving their school and their community. Fifth graders sang at a nearby assisted living center. The Spanish class caroled to classrooms and the front office to spread cheer. 

Secretary Lori Brockbank said the day of service is a tradition students and staff look forward to each year.

“They are just as excited about it as if they were having a party,” she said.

During the month of December, Hawthorn students also collected 3,000 pounds of food and 400 toys for donation. By Dec. 20, school counselor Sally Robinson’s office was overflowing with bags of more than 500 coats and blankets from the Anti Bullying Club’s coat drive.