Students play Santa to peers, community

Published: Thursday, Dec. 23 2010 1:25 a.m. MST

Kindergartner Eddika Alvarez gives Viewmont High School's Ashley Whitten a hug after spending time together at a holiday party.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Miguel Garcia, 7, was so excited before school Friday morning he said his legs were shaking.

The second grader at Guadalupe Schools had been anticipating this day since the beginning of the school year: Viewmont Day.

Friday morning more than 120 Viewmont High School students showed up at Guadalupe with yellow trash bags filled with wrapped presents. The students crammed in the narrow hallway on the bottom floor of the school, each with a student's wish list in hand and a bag of presents slung over their shoulder.

"I feel like Santa," said one student, Scott Gold, a senior, as he walked into the school and waited to give presents to his "buddy," a fourth-grader named Sergio.

For the last 23 years, students at Viewmont High have raised money to buy the Title One school's students presents for the holiday. This year, the students raised more than $33,000 by knocking on doors, holding fundraisers and personally raising more than $100 each.

"This is probably the highlight of some of the kids' Christmases," said Tika Britt, the P.E. teacher at the charter school, where every student qualifies for free and reduced lunch.

But many teachers and students say it's not just the presents that make this day great, it's the two hours of time the high schoolers spend after opening presents with the elementary kids, playing and talking with them.

"I am hearing more words come out of the younger children's mouths than ever before," said the principal, Patty Walker.

But Viewmont students aren't the only ones doing something special for others during the holiday season.

Dilworth Elementary in Salt Lake City made holiday cards for elderly residents of retirement homes during their lunch recess time this month. Whittier students collected used coats, hats and gloves and distributed them to students who needed them. Hillside is doing a sub for Santa for 18 families at the school.

Wasatch Junior High in Granite district has been collecting books for months to give to students at Woodrow Wilson Elementary. And students at Oakridge Elementary decided to collect items like toys, shoes, boots, coats, sheets, blankets and pots and pans for local refugees after a student in the first grade class saw some refuges walking in the snow in sandals.

A fourth grade class at Bountiful Elementary in Davis County gave a Utah Animal Adoption Center a back room full of dog and cat food and supplies. Students in the class also wrote notes to the animals after looking up the ones in the shelter online. One student wrote: "To Sienna, I hope you will be a Christmas present the day Christmas is here." Another wrote: "To Domino, I think you are the coolest dog in the whole center because I like dogs with spots."

On Thursday night, Lone Peak High School students spent hours in the cold trying to collect $10,000 in one night for Make-a-Wish Foundation, to go toward two students' wishes in the area. The high schoolers were set on getting the money before going home that night.

In years past, students have stayed out until 2 a.m., said Zach Newman, student body president who helped plan the event. He said he and about 100 other students were outside the school bundled up in coats and blankets collecting money until about midnight this year, when temperatures reached the high teens.

"When [people] see us suffering in the cold, it is one of those things they can relate too, and it gets their attention," Newman said. "We let others know we are serious about this, and we are going to help our charity organization."

The students have raised more than $18,000, but hope to reach their goal of $25,000 by the end of December (to donate, go to www.lonepeakgoldrush.com).

But not only are these students and schools helping out those in their community, Salt Lake City Superintendent McKell Withers says they are building character.

"When kids give back to their communities or to each other, they start to have an experience that later on as an adult they will look back on and recreate," Withers said. "Service learning not only has immediate rewards, but it has long-term benefits that are huge."

e-mail: slenz@desnews.com

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