Submitted by Simsbury Public Schools
Every year students say thank you to the teachers at Squadron Line Elementary School with holiday gifts, such as baked goods, gift certificates, or homemade items. While all of these gifts are appreciated, several weeks ago, kindergarten teacher Georgia Austin sent her room parents the message that she would prefer donations for needy local families over special treats.
Squadron Line School’s character education motto is “We all SHINE at Squadron Line through respect, responsibility, and kindness;” These are not just words to the staff or students—they mean action, although in this case, help from the wider community was appreciated. Simsbury’s Social Services Department, in particular Director Mickey Lecours-Beck and Human Services Aide Charlotte Barth, identified 22 families in need, The Squadron Line kindergarten families could have elected to sponsor one or two of the families—instead, they sponsored them all.
Room parent Nicole Kodak noted that there are so many worthy charities throughout Connecticut and the world, “but we chose to work with Simsbury Social Services because kindergarteners are very concrete in their thinking, and we want them to grasp and enjoy the feeling of doing something right and good.”
She quickly compiled the information from social services into a spreadsheet, and along with room parent Sue DiFatta, organized the purchasing of gifts and the collection of the many gift cards that would help the older children afford the gifts they wanted, some of whom had iPod Touches, Nooks, and other more pricey items so popular with that age group on their lists.
Austin spent an entire week on the theme “sharing and caring,” teaching her class about small gestures that show you care. Children were encouraged to apply what they learned, perhaps inviting a friend over or making something for him or her. The class also learned about different traditions, such as the meanings of candles during Kwanzaa. Technology offered the children a chance to experience the tradition firsthand, as they lit virtual candles using the classroom SmartBoard.
To go along with the theme of sharing and caring, Austin also talked about “want” versus “need.” She was surprised that none of the children mentioned toys as a need (although they did say books). Two thoughtful responses were a dishwasher and green vegetables.
“The children did a great job assimilating everything I tried to teach,” observed Austin, and acknowledging that Simsbury implemented full-day kindergarten just this year, she added, “Full day kindergarten allows me the time to really delve deeper into the curriculum and social learning.”
On December 18, a culminating activity took place called “Spirit of Giving.” The children rotated in “stations” that included making cheery posters for residents of McLean retirement home, decorating cards and gift tags and gift card holders, gift wrapping, stuffing candy canes into green or red bags, and then snacktime and a story read by volunteer dad Brian DiFatta.
Volunteer Gina Eddy arguably had the most difficult job of supervising the wrapping of the larger items. The kindergartners, who experienced one or two mishaps with unwieldy lengths of tape but quickly solved their issue with scissors, delighted in choosing the wrapping paper, ribbon and bows. However, they never forgot what the activity was all about. One little girl peered into the bag of colorful bows, paused, and then turned to a classmate and asked, “Patrick, would you like to pick one?”
Austin visited each busy table and was struck by what was accomplished. She commented, "We never could have done all of this without the kindergarten families who were so eager to support the learning in the classroom and contribute to families in need."
After all the gifts were wrapped and the final colored pencil put away, the stack of gifts to local families remained, each bearing a sticker that said, “From a Simsbury Family who cares about you!” Also remaining was proof that children at Squadron Line Elementary School had really learned the meaning of giving.