For the visitors at King Philip Regional High School yesterday, it was a break from reality and a chance for the school to give back. Once again, the senior class and the KP Student Council held a special holiday party for first and second graders from the Ellis Elementary School in Roxbury.
Arriving at 10:00 a.m., the young elementary students spent the day with students from KP, singing carols, enjoying lunch, playing games, and receiving gifts bought by members of the senior class and student council.
The idea for the day came 30 years ago when a school in Holliston invited a group of students from a school in Worcester for a day of games and presents. While the event was shut down with the arrival of a new principal, KP guidance counselor Jo-Anne Barns took the idea with her when she left Holliston for King Philip and started the event 12 years ago for the KP Student Council.
While Barnes is no longer a student council advisor, current advisor Elizabeth Coleman has kept the program alive, inviting Ellis Elementary.
“I think it’s important for our children to see that everybody doesn’t have what they have,” said Coleman.
Overall, the KP Student Council and 285 members of the senior class took part in the day. The seniors' participation represented 85% of their grade
The process started when the children at Ellis Elementary School wrote to the one to three KP students assigned to be their buddies for the day. The child also includes a holiday wish list that is anything from expensive electronics to basic necessities.
"It really runs the gamut from ‘I want an iPad or a Nintendo DS,’ or ‘I want a hat, pajamas, or scarves,” said KP teacher Ryan Bennett who is also a student council advisor.
In some of the letters, there were even requests for necessities for the writer's siblings, showing the harsh situation some of the children find themselves in.
“Some of these children in their letter ask for food. A lot of them ask for clothes, coats, and hats. Some children said ‘I don’t want anything can you please get some food for my brother and sister?’” said Coleman.
When KP seniors Austin Gatacomb and James Hall signed up to help a child from the Ellis School, the student they were the buddies with simply asked for some candy canes, a stocking, books, and gloves. While they were not sure how they were going to react when the gifts were open, they quickly found joy in the child's happiness once he received his gifts.
“It was moving. I wasn’t sure how I was going to react and then he started open the gifts and you saw his face light up more and more,” Gatacomb said.
With some kids walking away with bags full of gifts, the field house turned into a festive area for the afternoon as children flew across the space on Razor Scooters, played with RC cars, and even showed off some dribbling skills with their new basketball. There was even a visit from Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus as the children rushed to greet him in the back of the room.
While there was a recommended spending limit of $75, some of the students were quite generous based on the Barbie Dream Houses that some of the girls left with. While gracious, there may be a hard limit of $75 for next year to avoid an extreme difference in gifts.
With the day over and many of the students sad to see their new friends leave, it was clear that the KP students were happy to see the Ellis students leave with something that could give some a little extra joy during the holidays.
“It was great, I love meeting all the little kids, I just wish we could continue because the day goes by so fast,” Gatacomb said.