Thursday, December 23, 2010

All Aboard!!

Today is the official first day of Winter Break!! Woo hooooo! I'm pretty sure I was WAY more excited about it than my kids, which is saying a lot because, based on their over-hyperactivity this week, I'd say they were pretty stoked! :) I'm spending my break in Fairfax, VA with my family and some cousins, my aunt, and uncle. I LOVE Christmas/the holiday season, so am planning to enjoy every second of it. My goals for the break are to blog everyday (any of my 'followers' know that it's been a WHILE since I posted so I have a lot to catch up on!!), not gain more than 5 pounds (my mom LOVES to cook and is really good at it, too!!) and get caught up on sleep! I'm sure it's going to be a very laid-back break and full of memories. My family is huge about traditions, so it's always a lot of fun celebrating/partaking in those. One tradition that we've started at school (this being my second year of teaching, I can say that it was actually the 2nd annual!) is Polar Express Day!
The last day before Winter Break in Newport News Public Schools is always (or has been since I've been in the system!) a half day. This means that we're in school for about 2.5 hours. I'm not sure about you, but I think it'd probably be easier to teach a brick wall how to build itself than to teach a 9-year-old anything involving history, math, or science 3 days before Christmas/a 10-day vacation. Taking this into consideration, the 4th grade team decided to officially declare this day Polar Express Day! If you ask any of the teachers, we will tell you it's a combination of a Compare and Contrast Learning Activity and a reward for our students earning 100 Panda Paws (I've mentioned these before... they're little pieces of paper with paw prints on them (our mascot is the Panda). Classes earn them for getting caught showing respect in different areas of the school. They get a reward at every 25, and then a big celebration when they reach 100-- the GOLDEN PANDA AWARD!). Since movies/parties are highly frowned upon in the administrative side of education, we have to be very careful with how we present our ideas.
So, to make it educational, we read the book The Polar Express in class on Tuesday and then while they were watching the movie on Wednesday, students had to think about how it was similar to and different from the book!
To make it a celebration, we provided food... and lots of it. :) Mrs. Bozung's (my fellow 2nd-year, 4th grade teacher) class also earned 100 Paws, so we collaborated on how to make our parties amazing! I made 45 cupcakes on Tuesday night and she made 50 Reindeer Balls (Oreos, cream cheese, and sprinkles!), the school provided us with popcorn and candy canes, we bought juice boxes, Hot Chocolate and mini marshmallows (to go with the Polar Express movie/theme), and ordered 6 pizzas/class.
Add another bag of popcorn, 18 more candy canes, 25 Reindeer Balls and 6 pizzas and you have our spread (half of those cupcakes went to Mrs. Bozung's class!).

As if watching a movie and stuffing your face in class wasn't enough, the icing on the cake was that we made it a Pajama Party! When I announced this, the girls started FREAKING OUT and the boys shrugged/groaned and pretended they weren't excited and wouldn't participate. The day of, though, the boys apparently felt differently because they all showed up in sweatpants/bath robes (with clothes underneath, thankfully!)/onesies (not even kidding. Cutest thing EVER!). The girls were totally decked out in pink frillies/Justin Bieber pajamas/slippers/etc and brought blankets and pillows. Like everything else we do for our kids, Mrs. Bozung and I obviously went all out, too!

Aside from the students singing along with just about every song in The Polar Express, the movie-viewing went off without any interruptions. Unfortunately, though, I didn't check the length of the movie beforehand (someone told me it was 2+ hours, so I believed them.. turns out, it's only 1.5 hours long!) and it ended a lot earlier than I was expecting it to! Thankfully, the pizza had already arrived, so I passed that out and we had a nice lunch together. As soon as I passed out the last piece and the kids were about to dig in, one of my boys cried out, "WAIT! Don't eat until you say your grace!" He then proceeded to lead the entire class through the "God is great, God is good" prayer (there are like 5 verses that I'd never heard before, apparently?!). Being a public school teacher, I made no comment to support this.. but I sure didn't make him stop either! It was pretty awesome to watch/listen to and have a feeling of hope that maybe they are being taught morals after all! That hope was questioned, though, when they ended the prayer with "Thank you Ms. Wacek for this heavenly food. Amen." Haha.

Another funny quote of the day... I gave the kids some sheets to color if they didn't want to watch the movie. About 5 of these pictures were given back to me as "Christmas presents" that I'm not obliged to hang up soemwhere. :) One of the girls colored a picture of Rudolph and at the top wrote "You're MY Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." I'm not exactly sure what that means, but I'm sure it was extremely endearing.

After eating, I gave them each their Christmas presents.. a box of division flash cards, a Christmas pencil and a little jingle bell. I included a personalized card for each of them and a little note that explained the bell. It said:
In the book The Polar Express, the boy’s bell was used to determine who believed in Santa. This bell that I am giving to you is different. This bell represents my belief in YOU.
No matter where you go, how old you are, or what other people might tell you, please remember that I will always believe in you. I know, without a doubt, that YOU can accomplish anything you put your mind to. YOU are smart and capable. With hard-work and a belief in yourself, your opportunities are endless.
Success means having the courage, the determination, and the will to become the person you believe you were meant to be.” 
-- George Sheehan

I'm guessing some of my kids have already lost their bell, but even if just ONE of them takes this message to heart, I'd consider my job worthwhile. I think it's so important for our kids today to realize that they CAN succeed no matter what their past or current circumstances. But that's a blog for another time... :)

When I was done loading them up with sugar and reading them The Night Before Christmas, I loaded them on the busses, cleaned off my desk and headed home! Another successful "holiday" party in the books! I'm already looking forward to and planning for next year!


  1. Coolest teacher EVER!!!!

  2. LOVE it! Polar Express Day is my favorite day of the year :) .....Well, 80's day takes a close 2nd!!!

  3. Steph, I honestly don't know how people can be so concerned about our school systems when I hear about teachers like YOU. I know I say this all the time, but your kids are SO LUCKY to have you!! Your care for them is so obvious.