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Staff brings comfort and joy to students

With goody bags in hand, staff adds a little more cheer to the holiday season

Godwin Heights — “I need two three/fives and two six/twelves,” shouts Godwin Middle School teacher Patrick Snyder, while in the distance you can hear another teacher ask for “four six/twelves.”

Within a couple seconds, a group of Godwin staff members are at Snyder’s side handing him several goody bags, designated for third through fifth graders and sixth through 12th graders.

“I think Chick-Fil-A has some competition,” said West Godwin teacher Marisa Brown with a laugh.

On this cold, very windy Thursday, it was not sandwiches that the Godwin Heights staff was handing out, but some holiday cheer as students, staff and families prepared for the winter break.

A Longer Christmas List This Year

Earlier this year, the Kent School Services Network staff serving Godwin Heights was looking for something that would be fun for both staff and students.

“We as a KSSN staff see that students are really struggling this year,” said Sarah Schantz, a KSSN community school coordinator.“We have been in this pandemic for almost two years now and things don’t really seem to be getting better, and we can see that hopelessness and struggle to deal with everything in the world in all of our students. And that means our staff has to deal with it too in the classroom.”

For several years, the high school hosted Holiday Home Visits, where through a sign-up, staff would visit a home and bring the children a small gift. Due to COVID, last year’s event was changed to a drive through. So with KSSN community school coordinators Miriam Kluitenberg and Kelsey Gruber, Schantz worked to expand the high school event into a district-wide one.

“I think this is awesome that we are able to provide to all of our families at the same time and that it could be made a district-wide event,” said Middle/High School Principal Chad Conklin, who wore a special Santa outfit.

“We look for ways to be able to connect with our families which has been really hard due to COVID and not being able to have parents in the buildings,” said West Godwin Principal Mary Lang, who dressed as Mrs. Claus. “This is a great opportunity to make those connections.”

The KSSN coordinators sent out a signup form with 750 students signing up to participate. The group then spent about a month gathering donations from local community partners to help fill goody bags for each student. 

Each bag had a pack of 10 reusable masks, Lysol wipes, hot chocolate, microwave popcorn, candy canes, holiday candy, hat and gloves, YMCA day passes, crayons, a book, and items from various community partners such as keychains, pens, etc. The bags were separated by grade so students would receive age-appropriate items such as older students might find in their bags sticky notes or doodling pads.

The volunteer sheet to “work” the event filled up within a couple of days with many staff members asking if there were other roles they could fill, Schantz said, adding that it highlighted the desire for “something positive and joyful, especially with a holiday season coming that feels difficult in this current world we are in.”

Spreading  Holiday Cheer

“Mrs. Bowen, I finished it,” says the little boy from the backseat of the car as he lifts a book to the window.

“What, you have?” North Godwin teacher Lindsay Bowen responds. In the next car, a student is waving to her, and she smiles and waves back.

“I have been with the district for about five years, serving in the middle school and now at North Godwin,” she said. “I know a lot of the students from kindergarten through eighth grade, so it is fun seeing them and spreading some holiday cheer.”

At the event, there is certainly a lot of holiday cheer. With seasonal music in the background, the staff continues to scurry like elves as the cars keep coming. 

“Happy holidays,” Conklin says as he hands out candy canes. Lang waves. Snyder and others continue to shout out numbers and, at times, the laughter almost drowns out the wind.

“This is the one email that I look for every year,” Snyder said. “This is just fantastic. It is just such a cool way to celebrate with our families.”

Explore more unique video stories of students learning, interesting school programs and educators working to help all children succeed.

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma covers Kent ISD and Godwin Heights. She was born in the Detroit area but grew up in Brighton where she attended Hartland Public Schools. The salutatorian for the Class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism and minored in photography and German. She expanded her color palette to include orange and black as both her daughters graduated from Byron Center Public Schools; maroon and white for Aquinas College where her daughter studies nursing and also brought back blue and maize for Grand Rapids Community College where her youngest daughter currently is studying music. Read Joanne's full bio

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