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Students Rock the Holidays for Toddlers

Twenty area children got surprise visits from Santa and his elves the week before Christmas and unwrapped wooden rocking toys built by Thornapple Kellogg High School students, an event that has become a holiday tradition.

Santa didn’t come in a sleigh; he arrived in a big yellow school bus. And instead of rocking horses, it was rocking motorcycles that were given to the children. A merry group of about a dozen costumed students made the deliveries, though they got lost once and had to use GPS.

Three-year-old Suzi Doxtater got an early Christmas present
Three-year-old Suzi Doxtater got an early Christmas present

“Don’t worry guys. I’m Googling it,” Micah Fasold yelled to his fellow elves as they stood at a corner in Middleville trying to find the house where they were supposed to be delivering a rocker.

One thing about the annual delivery was just the way it’s always been: a surprise Christmas present from elves and Santa was magical for the children and touched the hearts of their parents. The Barry County United Way provided the names of children who received the special surprise.

The students put together more than 700 parts for each rocker while learning to use planers, band saws, table saws, electric sanders and a CNC (computer numerical control) machine.

“It’s old-world craftsmanship with a little bit of modern flair,” teacher Matthew Melvin said. “They used to use a scroll saw for cutting the pattern, but 21st century skills changed that to using the (CNC) machine.”

The work is tedious, especially the seemingly never-ending sanding, said student Spencer Irvine, who insisted it’s worth it. “We know they are going to go to people who deserve them,” he said.

The hours of sanding that go into building each rocker is the not-so-great part of the project, said Heidi Cooper

Junior Heidi Cooper knew nothing about woodworking skills before taking the class this semester. “It’s kind of funny when you walk out of here with a bunch of sawdust on you,” she said. “Your arms get a workout sanding.”

The production woodworking students are required to make 20 small projects a year, such as cutting boards, stools, oars and even pens. They are encouraged to make products that could be sold to the public, and some students have made several hundred dollars doing so, Melvin said. Personalized wooden oars, for example, have sold for $35, and relief maps of lakes have sold for up to $125.

The class has become popular, Melvin said, with more than 200 students signing up for it this year. “You get to build cool stuff,” he said.


“A Rocking Horse Christmas” children’s story by Mary Pope Osbornes

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Linda Odette
Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio or email Linda.


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