By Tim Leeds
School children in Havre have been busy this holiday season, with an emphasis on giving rather than receiving.
"It's an offshoot of kindness," said Karen Swenson, principal of Lincoln-McKinley School. "We teach kindness within the school and branch off to show kindness within the community."
The staff and students in Havre's schools worked on a variety of charity and community service projects in addition to putting on Christmas programs and parties. This year's charitable activities have included gift giving and food donations. Students have spread Christmas cheer with caroling and putting up decorations at the Fire Department and around town for shut-in seniors and residents of Northern Montana Care Center, among other places.
The students of Lincoln-McKinley School, which serves second- and third-graders, have participated in the Salvation Army's Angel Tree, buying gifts for needy children. A sucker sale at the school raised $194.60 for the Angel Tree and the Salvation Army's Adopt-a-Family program. The school sponsored a food drive as well. The food gathered by Havre schools was divided between the Salvation Army and the North Havre Community Food Bank.
Sara Harada, a second-grade teacher, said it's easy to get the kids motivated to help others at Christmastime.
"They want to help others pretty readily," she said. "We find that kids are real willing to help."
Harada, who has taught in Havre for 25 years, said giving and sharing have always been part of what the schools teach about Christmas. Activities like caroling at the Care Center and the Eagles Manor have long been part of Christmas activities, and once the Angel Tree program began, some classes started raising money or gifts for that instead of exchanging gifts.
Projects like the sucker sale have become more common as well. Swenson said the students originally planned to raise money for the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but decided to meet local needs instead.
The students also sent cards, posters and letters to the Pentagon. Swenson said the students decided Pentagon staffers hadn't received as much attention and help as the victims of the World Trade Center attack and wanted to do something to raise spirits there.
Sunnyside's staff and fourth- and fifth-graders were also part of the community food drive, participated in the Angel Tree, and spent time visiting and entertaining seniors. Again, the focus at Sunnyside was more on giving, with many classes doing community projects instead of having gift exchanges.
Principal Lisa Stroh at Highland Park School said her students also had Christmas activities, though there were fewer activities because of the age group. Highland Park has all of the kindergarten and first-grade students in the Havre Public Schools.
Along with the four Christmas programs the school's 16 classes put on Monday, the students also participated in the Angel Tree and donated to the White House Project, to aid children in Afghanistan.
Stroh said another activity she holds is reading "The Polar Express," a book in which the character has a dream on Christmas Eve about going to the North Pole and asking Santa for a bell. In the dream, he loses the bell, but wakes and finds it under the tree Christmas morning. Only people who have the Christmas spirit can hear the bell.
Stroh said she gives the students their own bells after reading the story, and tells them that anytime they hear a bell they should remember to be kind. She said students she gave bells to last year tell her they still have their bells and they remind them of the spirit of the season.
The upper-level students also got into the act, with the Havre Middle School adopting a family for Christmas and helping with the Havre Fire Department's Everybody Loves a Firefighter food drive. Havre High students were also part of E.L.F, and the band and choir groups have been showing their ability with Christmas concerts and caroling around town.
The students at the SUNS alternative school also demonstrated the Christmas spirit, working with the E.L.F. drive and collecting 53 pounds of food at a luncheon to donate to charity. The employees at the Havre bus barn and at the Robins administration building also collected for charitable giving.
St. Jude Thaddeus School also has a long tradition of sharing and giving at Christmas. All grades at the Catholic school participate in charity projects, with preschool through second grade doing food collections for Sister Judith Meander's charity ministry. The second grade also collected money in "God banks" this month, and donated $280 to Meander's ministry.
The third- through fifth-grade classes at St. Jude's also collected money in banks, which they used to purchase gifts for children listed on the Angel Trees, and the sixth- through eighth-graders collected socks for a mission in Minneapolis to help supply the needy with warm clothes for the winter.