12/22/18 Christmas arrives early for students at two local schools

Santa comes to town
Carmin Williamson, a kindergarten student at Newlin Elementary in Burlington, is excited to receive a Christmas stocking with a school tee shirt provided by the Horace Mann Insurance Company.

Robert Thomason / Times-News

Carmin Williamson, a kindergarten student at Newlin Elementary in Burlington, is excited to receive a Christmas stocking with a school tee shirt provided by the Horace Mann Insurance Company.

Christmas arrives early for students at two local schools
By Jessica Williams, The Times-News 12/22/18     
Reprinted with permission.  
 
Christopher Morales Lopez has wanted a Razor scooter for years, and this year he got it.

Jumping up and down in gray pajamas with emojies, video game controllers and pizza on them, he hugged the box tight, and it looked just like Christmas morning — except he was in his classroom at Hillcrest Elementary School.

All of this started when fourth-grade teacher Rachel Gibson posted a plea on Facebook for 20 people to donate $20 each so she could get each of her students a Christmas gift.

Hillcrest is a Title I school, which means the majority of students come from low-income homes, where pencils, markers and books are considered a luxury, and letters to Santa asking for toys, like a remote control helicopter or a slime-making kit, have to be met with a “maybe next year.”

But instead of 20 people, 60 people responded to Gibson’s request.

“Money just started pouring in,” she said. “I ended up having to make a wish list on Amazon, and so I came in, I had them all write down three things that they wanted, and some of them still hesitated and said, ‘I don’t want to make a list.’ I made them make one.”

On Friday, Dec. 21, Santa Claus and a small army of elves arrived to deliver the gifts — three for each child, plus one outfit. The kids were dressed in pajamas for pajama day and gathered around the Christmas tree to open the gifts.

Wrapping paper flew everywhere as they unboxed shiny things like headphones, Matchbox car sets, art kits and even a bicycle. They smiled, and they held their presents in the air like trophies, and the adults in the room wiped tears from their eyes.

"Oh my God, I got Sharpies," one student exclaimed. "Y'all, this is the best Christmas present ever!"

“I just can’t imagine not getting what you want from Santa,” Gibson said, watching them admire their gifts, “something as small as a remote-control helicopter.”

Gifts at Newlin


Hillcrest wasn't the only Burlington school to pull off Christmas magic this year.

All 600-plus students at Newlin Elementary School gathered in the school’s gymnasium Thursday, Dec. 20, for a surprise from Horace Mann Insurance, which works primarily with educators.

Public Relations Specialist Paul Wappel flew from Springfield, Ill., to introduce a very special guest, but first the kids had to sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” to get him to come out.

Santa walked out on the stage, and the collective scream of excitement that rose from the audience may have been heard from as far away as China. This is unconfirmed.

“I’m excited to be at your school,” Santa said. “I’ve heard that everyone here has been very, very good this year, right? So, guess what? I brought some gifts for everyone.”

Each student was given a stocking and a candy cane. Then Santa counted down from 10 and told them to open their stockings.

Inside, there were red T-shirts with the Newlin Wildcats mascot on the front and the word “LEAD” on the back, representing the fact that Newlin follows the Leader in Me model.

Newlin also is a Title I school, and the kids’ faces lit up with glee as they immediately put on their matching shirts and high-fived each other.

Santa had one more surprise in his bag before he had to head back to the North Pole to get ready for Christmas Eve: a birthday cake and bag of cards for Principal Larry Conte, whose birthday is Dec. 24. The whole gym sang “Happy Birthday,” and then Santa was on his way.

Christmas may be Dec. 25 on the calendar, but love and support from a community can bring it to life any day of the year.