While the world discussed what needs to change because of what recently unfolded in Newtown, Connecticut, the staff at Colebrookdale Elementary School (CES) focused on keeping some semblance of normalcy for their students by providing a week of holiday activities before the long winter break.
For more than a decade, CES has celebrated the holiday season with a school-wide sing-along. On December 19, the entire student population of approximately 400 Kindergarteners through sixth graders gathered in the all-purpose room for the annual event.
This year, CES principal Michael Stoudt decided to precede the event with a vocabulary lesson and an unusual contest designed to hammer home the meaning of the new word the students learned during the lesson.
As he told the children, “We have to make things educational. We have to connect them to what we do in school.”
During the vocabulary lesson, the word “eccentric” flashed on the large overhead screen, and the school’s reading specialist, Patricia Thompson, explained the various definitions and the roots, both Latin and Greek, of the word.
Principal Stoudt then told the children that it was time to have a little fun with the new word that they had just learned by having the school’s first “Eccentric” Holiday Sweater Contest. Approximately 10 staff members participated in the contest, from some who were wearing unusual and wildly colored sweaters to others who were not only wearing unique sweaters but also bows, garlands, and various other decorations.
The children voted by cheering for their favorites, and the contestants were narrowed down to the top four: special education teacher Susan Edwards, occupational therapist Barbara Garmirian, custodian Scott Schiel (who is fondly referred to by students and staff as “Mister Clean”), and Principal Michael Stoudt.
After another round of votes, the field was narrowed down further to just Schiel and Stoudt. Schiel incited the students to vote by jumping around frantically waving a large sign that read “Scream for Clean” on one side and “Pout for Stoudt” on the other. Stoudt, in a bright red sweater embellished with garland, bows, and Christmas ornaments, flailed his arms as his red bulb nose flashed encouraging the children to choose his outfit instead.
In the end, Schiel took top honors for his eccentric sweater, and the emcee, school counselor Lisa Frain-Johnson, reminded Stoudt that “there’s always next year, and you have 365 days to get your next sweater together.”
At the conclusion of the contest, the sing-along began and for more than 20 minutes students sang an array of holiday classics, including “Jingle Bells,” “Deck the Halls,” “White Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” and “Jingle Bell Rock.” Based on the number of cheers at the beginning of several songs, it was apparent that “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” were the favorites.
Music teacher, Lori Freed, put together the sing-along program and also provided the piano accompaniment, while Frain-Johnson assisted Freed by running the slide show, which flashed the song lyrics on the overhead screen so the students could follow along.
Before the students were sent back to their classrooms following the sing-along, Stoudt told the audience, “You are the best gifts ever. I am so thankful that I get to be a part of your educational program and do what I can to help make you as successful as you can be in the world. Have a very safe, happy holiday.”
The festivities then continued on December 20 when third through sixth grade students were bussed to Boyertown Junior High West for a holiday assembly. The junior high’s Concert Band, Orchestra, Show Choir, and 8/9 Choir performed and the show concluded with a holiday sing-along where audience members were invited to join in.
Finally, on the morning of Friday, December 21, students were surprised and excited to see Santa and Mrs. Claus up on the rooftop of CES. The pair (Scott Schiel and Lisa Frain-Johnson) waved to the children as they entered the building for the final half day of 2012.
Later in the day, the pre-winter break week culminated with holiday classroom parties and an early dismissal at 12:30 p.m., finishing a week that allowed the children to experience the innocent joy of the season.