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Across The District, Students Spread Cheer Through Giving



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Across The District, Students Spread Cheer Through Giving

By Emily Ashbolt

The spirit of the holidays, as infectious as the emotion of a small child, spread through the Newtown school district in the form of drives for blankets, cards for troops oversees, and other ways of making the world a little brighter both locally and far.

Each school in the district had special clubs or organizations working on projects this year to help those in need.

Sandy Hook School

Sandy Hook School, like many schools in the district, has a year-round food drive in which students, parents, and staff are encouraged to donate food as often as possible.

In addiction, each year Sandy Hook takes part in the Adopt A Family for Christmas program, and has many creative ways to keep donations pouring in.

“In the beginning of October, we start raising funds,” explained Sandy Hook School Secretary Joanne Didonato. “We run a bake sale after school during conference week and also have a ‘hat day’ — for the mere price of $1 you get to wear your favorite hat in school for the day.”

The most interesting and effective way of raising money, however, concerns the staff.

“Staff members pay $2 on Friday for the privilege of wearing jeans,” said Mrs Didonato.

This system works so well that Sandy Hook is continuing it for the staff’s weekly food drive for the Faith Food Pantry starting up in January.

“As we have almost 100 employees, we’re hoping for lots of food items,” Mrs Didonato said.

The school also offers a raffle as a fundraiser — for $2 dollars purchasers get a ticket that could win lunch with Principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung and Assistant Principal Jennifer Sinal. These techniques usually raise enough money for Sandy Hook to adopt two or more families per year, according to Mrs Didonato.

Hawley School

At Hawley School students used technology to give back this season.

This month’s “mission of the month” uses www.onecause.com to donate funds to Hawley School that can be used to buy supplies for the school. The Hawley Student Council also sponsored a nonperishable food drive to benefit the Newtown Food Pantry at Social Services.

 On top of this, the Hawley School staff adopted a town family in need through the Newtown Fund, Inc.

“The staff buys clothing items/gifts as well as donates nonperishable food items/health items and gift cards to local food markets such as Caraluzzi’s and Big Y for this family,” explained Chris Breyan, Hawley School’s lead teacher.

Hawley fourth graders also recently completed their Citizenship Projects. Citizenship Projects involve every student completing a community service project and then presenting about it. Many of these projects greatly helped the community.

Middle Gate School

At Middle Gate School, the aim is to get everyone involved for the school’s annual food drive. The drive collects nonperishable and fresh food for Middle Gate families who might need some help during the holidays.

 Middle Gate lead teacher Judy Beers also cited the yearly clothing donations the staff collects for students at the school who are in need.

 “It’s really nice,” said Mrs Beers, “because all the staff gets together one day to wrap all of the clothes we bought and then they are ready to put under the tree or by the menorah. The kids get these gifts, and what they need, but they don’t know that it comes from the school.”

The fact that the Middle Gate collections stay in Middle Gate, helping their struggling families, is appealing to many, she said.

The Girl Scouts at Middle Gate also sponsor clothing drives throughout the season.

Head O’ Meadow School

Gail Diminico, kindergarten teacher at Head O’ Meadow, has, for the past few years, been collecting donated toys from her own and other kindergarten classes to be donated to Santa’s workshop at the Dorothy Day House in Danbury.

“This year,” she reported, “between my class and [fellow kindergarten teacher] Miryam Kuligowski’s class in both the am and the pm, we filled two cars!”

Mrs Diminico and Ms Kuligowski make sure to explain to their students why they are asking for these donations and what they are used for. This project fits into the monthly “kinder’kindness” project at Head O’ Meadow. On top of this, the kindergarteners and their fourth grade study buddies from Lynn Taylor’s and Pat Kurz’s classes join forces to make fleece blankets to be donated to an area hospitals neonatal intensive care units.

Fourth graders can also join the School Community Team, which puts students in charge of jobs such as announcing memos and being bus safeties.

Each month, the School Community Team students have a meeting where they send out letters to the student body to ask for donations for varying causes such as the Faith Food Pantry and the Dorothy Day House.

“This month they are collecting hats, scarves, mittens and gloves to donate to Catholic Charities,” said Sara Washiko, head of School Community Team and second grade teacher.

But its not just for the School Community Team kids.

“Really, it is the whole school that donates the items,:” she continued. The School Community Team students just have the job of bagging or boxing the items up.

In January Head O’ Meadow will also be writing letters and collecting items to send to soldiers overseas.

Reed Intermediate School

At Reed Intermediate School the Interact Club has been kept busy with its Halloween Candy Collection for UNICEF, helping out at the Rotary Pancake Breakfast, and now their participation in the Holiday Helpers program.

“They have this wonderful energy,” explained Interact Club director Al Finelli of the kids in his club, “This 10- and-11-year-old charm that just raises energy and spirits.”

Not only can this charm raise spirits and energy, but also funds: Holiday Helper kids put up a table in the lunch room that over the course of three days raised more than $900 to donate to Newtown families in need.

Along with Student Council, the Interact Club is also sponsoring a mug collection for the Dorothy Day House. Dorothy Day House is constantly in need of mugs — the staff actually prefers mug donations to food, as mugs are used for handing out drinks at breakfasts and dinners and with such heavy wear are consistently being broken.


Newtown Middle School

Like Sandy Hook Elementary, the Newtown Middle School also adopts a family yearly through the Newtown Fund.

This year, the Middle School’s Thanksgiving food drive was so successful that some of the nonperishable food items from that collection were kept to give to the school’s adopted family.

In late November, the Student Council officers and additional eighth grade students supplemented the goods and other donations by going shopping at Target. There, they purchased clothing and toys on the family’s wish list.

“We are also doing a loose change collection to purchase food gift cards for our family,” added Student Council Advisor and math teacher Linda Dale Mulholland, as well as doing a gift wrap.

The Middle School Interact Club members also just finished their annual community service project of assisting the Rotary Club at its 50th Anniversary Pancake Breakfast.

However, their services are far from completed.

“We are, though, currently working on a project that’s in its preliminary stage,” said Bruce Moulthrop, Interact Club Advisor, “which is to support our troops in Afghanistan by collecting personnel hygiene products and shipping them there.”

The collection to support the troops will start after winter break at the school.


Newtown High School

The variety of clubs at the high school, as well as the independence of the students, means that many different charitable contribution drives go on simultaneously.

This year, sophomore members of Peer Leadership, Kiera Cohane, Kate Bartel, Lillia McEnaney, and Kristen Campbell, organized a blanket drive, collecting new and gently used sheets and bedcovers to donate to the Salvation Army. Although originally meant to be only for Thanksgiving, the drive had such a positive response that its deadline was extended to December 20.

“Peer Leadership’s goals are to do good deeds that benefit others,” explained business teacher and Peer Leadership advisor Vivian Sheen, “and the blanket drive was one way to give to people who may be struggling this winter with the cold weather we’ve been having.”

On top of this, the school only recently finished a schoolwide food drive, in which each homeroom got a different food type to bring in to donate to families in need for Thanksgiving.

In the same theme, the high school sponsored a “Winter Needs” drive for local Newtown Families. For this charitable effort, each grade level is given a different age group from infant to 18 and students brought in new, unwrapped toys suitable for those ages to their homeroom.

“We want students to understand what it feels like to support the idea of humanitarianism,” explained drive organizer and social studies teacher Jessica Blake, “and hopefully they will support this their entire lives.”

Social studies teacher Kristen Hardy also organized the adoption of three large families from the Women’s Center of Greater Danbury and are helping the families by buying various items on their wish lists. Anyone interested in participating in this collection can contact Mrs Hardy at hardyk@newtown.k12.ct.us.

The high school’s Ecology Club, headed by science teacher Karolyn Baumgartner, also held a free gift wrapping session at Edmond Town Hall on Saturday, December 18.

“According to Planetgreen.com, American households generate an extra million tons of trash during the holiday season, much of it in the form of paper goods such as wrapping paper and boxes for packages,” explained Mrs Baumgartner, which is why all the gifts at this wrapping session were wrapped using recycled and unwanted materials donated from around the community. This project was the idea of NHS senior and Ecology Club President Jane Ellen Anderson.

Whether in the form of groceries for a food pantry or toys for Newtown children, the charity and support of Newtown’s youth bodes well for not just a great holiday season, but for a brighter future. Though winter months bring cold weather, the goodwill and giving throughout the school district spread warmth with blankets and cheer with songs in Newtown and beyond.

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