LA GRANGE — Give a bunch of fifth graders $500 and take them to a big-box store full of gift possibilities and what happens? If these are Christel Perry’s fifth graders, they turn into Santa’s helpers with one mission: showing Christmas kindness.
Of course, there are lessons learned for these La Grange Elementary School students – mainly the math of getting the most for your money, of figuring totals and calculating sales tax – but shopping for gifts that will go to anonymous schoolmates imparts a lesson impossible to teach simply by putting pencil to paper.
“I learned how good it feels to give back to people in need. I learned to multiply and add tax to money. I learned some things about my friends. I also learned how to pick out stuff,” Jeremiah Jones wrote in the shopping-trip summary Perry asks her students to complete.
“I learned how to bond with other people and work together. The last thing I learned was how blessed I am to have what I have. Giving back is one of the best feelings.”
It’s a feeling circulating this Christmas season through LCPS classrooms and clubs, from the youngest students to the oldest, as school communities respond to the needs of individuals and local and national institutions. Generosity is a lesson easily retained but, in the district’s schools, always worth repeating.
Even when it requires guys in high school to dress in drag.
“It was a struggle but because of the purpose of the pageant, they agreed,” Gwen Boney, South Lenoir High School engineering teacher, said of the contestants in the womanless beauty pageant the school’s Student Technology Association (TSA) sponsored.
“We have been doing this for the past couple of years,” said Boney, the TSA advisor. “Each year the club decides what non-profit organization to sponsor. This year, we chose St. Jude’s Children Hospital to help treat childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Our goal is to send St. Jude’s Hospital $500 this holiday season.”
The $500 Perry’s students used to finance their shopping trip came from her church, Walnut Creek OFWB Church, which has been a partner for the many years Perry has organized it. This year – after a year off because of the coronavirus pandemic – the project returned with the additional help of Kinston’s Chick-fil-A.
It’s easy to turn a few hours at Walmart into a math lesson. The class was divided into five groups and each group was given $100 to spend on a member of an anonymous family or families at school chosen for Christmas assistance. The students learned how to budget money and figure sales tax, trying to get as close to their $100 limit as possible.
“They scanned their items at self-checkout and donated the remaining change to the Salvation Army,” Perry reported. “Students came back to school and wrapped the gifts for the anonymous students. Fun was had by all and many real-life lessons were learned on our shopping trip.”
Among other acts of kindness created and carried out by LCPS students, school staff and community partners this Christmas season were:
• The donation of a thousand pairs of socks to Kennedy Home and Lenoir Assisted Living by the SCA at South Lenoir High. The student government group also donated canned food to the families of two South Lenoir students.
• Pink Hill Elementary School mounted a “Stockings for Seniors” project this year as its annual community service effort and in cooperation with a current grant project managed by teacher Amy Taylor. Here’s Taylor’s description of the charitable effort: “At the end of November, we sent out a list to our students and families asking them to help us collect items to make stockings for Lenoir Assisted Living in Pink Hill. Our goal was to get a stocking for all 45 residents. After we sent out the list, Southern Pharmacy in Pink Hill contacted us and asked if they could help us out. We greatly accepted their offer and started our stocking drive. I am excited to share that not only did we meet our goal, but we exceeded our expectations. We created over 90 stockings.”
The stocks were delivered Thursday along with “lots of extra goodies,” Taylor reported. “We also invited families to join us for Christmas caroling. It was the sweetest thing to see the residents there clapping and singing along with our students, Southern Pharmacy and our PHES staff.”
• At Contentnea-Savannah K-8 School, members of the National Junior Honor Society partnered with Greene Lamp Community Action to collect hygiene and food items for veterans homes, homeless shelters and senior centers.
• A canned food drive at Rochelle Middle School, appropriately led by Tisha Dixon’s Leadership class, collected more than 24,000 items for distribution to Mary’s Kitchen and the homeless shelter in Kinston.
• Not to be outdone by the schools and their students, the district’s Child Nutrition staff collected boxes of hygiene items that were distributed this week to residents of the North Carolina Veterans Home in Kinston.
And, for the record, the five bravest guys in South Lenoir High’s TSA – the contestants in the womanless pageant – were Brody Hill, Hayden Zeagler, Adam Turner, Kodjo Missenbukpo and Landyn Whaley. The winner: Adam Turner.
“The students and staff enjoyed the event,” TSA advisor Boney said. “Thank you to everyone who supported it.”