Letters from Santa, Courtesy of Ninth-grade Elves

Carefully Crafting Answers to Kindergartners’ Requests

Rachel Lezan answered young Winter’s letter

Writing letters to Santa Claus is pretty much a rite of passage in the elementary years. Having them answered by a high school-age elf is pretty amaze-balls.

Every year, all Murray Lake and some Bushnell kindergarteners write letters to Santa that find their way to Tosha Duczkowski-Oxley’s ninth-grade English students. It’s their job to don their holiday ears — sometimes literally — and respond as only a shelf-dwelling workshop helper could.

Every elf-in-training is matched with a letter-writer, and the class learns two crucial caveats: Don’t make promises, and don’t go breaking their little hearts.

Some of English teacher Tosha Duczkowski-Oxley’s students had Santa letters answered by her classroom elves when they were in kindergarten

There were the expected requests: certain toys, books or video games, and lots who asked for elves of their own.

And then there were the wholly adorable, entirely earnest outliers.

Brielle Arnett said she volunteered to respond to Drake’s letter because of his unique request: a Venus flytrap. “I just said I’ll try my best,” she said with a laugh.

Bailey Wolters elected to answer another kindergartner, who made an appeal that the two elves at home would have a baby elf. Admittedly, there was some deflection involved. “I just said they are two of my favorite elves, and that I’m glad she likes having them around,” Bailey said, cleverly.

Duczkowski-Oxley reviews her students’ first drafts and makes suggestions, and the final version is handwritten on “official” Santa stationery. Each envelope is decorated with the kindergartner’s name and includes a candy cane and a little dash of magic reindeer dust (glitter).

The most challenging part of crafting the responses? “Putting yourself in the perspective of a 5-year-old,” said freshman Dillon Hieshetter. “They have a much different idea of Santa than we do.”

Letters are handed out at elementary holiday parties. Duczkowski-Oxley said that to support the North Pole narrative, some teachers put the letters in the freezer before they are delivered to little hands.

“It really is an important role,” she added, “and the authentic audience I am able to give them with this project does amazing things for their writing.”

Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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