Our Parent Teacher Organization just rocks.
They are a dedicated group of volunteers who practically live in our building and who do more good than most social services agencies manage to do. Throughout the year they run a "Food For Thought" program where kids receive a backpack with enough food to get them through the weekend. (It's amazing how many of our kids don't eat between school lunch on Friday and school breakfast on Monday.) They also are there to help out with life's emergencies, such as a pair of brand new basketball shoes being stolen from a locker that need to be replaced, a kid who needs a jacket, that sort of thing. They also have chili suppers, dances, festivals, and craft shows to raise money for our Christmas Angel program where they provide Christmas in the form of food and presents to needy families from our building. This year they're taking care of families with over a 100 children. The time and labor that goes into this is mind-boggling.
But the one thing they do that really impacts the kids, that makes the biggest impression on them, is The Christmas Store.
All year long, starting the day after Christmas, these ladies hit the sales. They are zealous at buying things at 75% or more off. The items themselves aren't junk, but actually are pretty nice - jewelry, perfume, stuffed animals, candles, and more. They will stockpile these items and in the week before we leave for the Christmas break they will take our large group instruction room (a room we use for everything from luncheons to multi-class labs) and turn it into The Christmas Store. The items are attractively displayed on tables, there's a cash register, they have holiday music playing, candy canes to snack on, in truth, it looks nicer than most mall stores.
And everything in there is priced from $1 to $5.
Quite simply, they are providing our students with a chance to buy presents for their parents, friends, family, and yes, even teachers, at a price they can afford, and without having to have a parent help them do it. This little bit of independence is something these kids love. It may sound stupid to a grown up (especially if you're like me and you're avoiding malls and shopping centers like the plague) but to be eleven and to be able to take $2 and buy your mom a present all by yourself is a big thing.
The Christmas Store is open all day long and the kids are very good about politely asking if they can leave class to go. I usually let them, as we're winding the semester down this week and there's really nothing that they absolutely can't miss (now that my last test is over). What's fun, for me, is when they return. They usually aren't gone long thanks to Mrs. Math who took them all over for a few minutes on the day the store opened to check it out so they knew what was there. When they return they have these HUGE smiles on their faces and they're carrying brightly colored Christmas gift bags full of goodies nestled in tissue paper (I love the fact that they don't even have to wrap the gifts - they're ready to go!).
The other day I saw the tiniest little sixth grader dragging four huge bags down the hall with a smile that could of lit up the Las Vegas strip.
Interestingly enough, from the conversations I hear, the kids aren't in there buying things for themselves, but are really buying things for others. I hear things like, "Oh man, did you see those candles in there? My mom would love those!" or "My sister is going to love that stuffed bear I got!" It's reassuring to know that most of them have the right idea.
The Christmas Store has been so popular this year that two of the PTO ladies took a road trip and some cash and hit some more sales to restock as they'd nearly sold everything out. They've extended the hours through Monday, our last full day of school.
The kids are ecstatic. And they're discovering something some of us tend to forget. It truly is more fun to give than to receive!