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American students give holiday spirit to other children

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-12-25

Stearley Heights Elementary School students have taken the holiday spirit to higher levels, while at the same time expanding their education at one of Okinawa's best schools. Under the guidance of 6th grade teacher Maxine Clark, the Student Council has organized a toy drive to collect stuffed animals from their classmates. The collected toys will be donated to a local children’s school for the hearing and vision impaired.

In order to successfully complete their project, the council members have set up a special display area in the lobby of their school, which shows holiday decorations from around the world. The display also includes many of the donated stuffed animals from other students. As of last week, they had collected 35 large stuffed animals and over 100 smaller ones. "We want to give at least one big animal to everyone, and we also are giving ornaments," explained Student Council President Julia Rydzewski

"We advertised so everyone would know," said Brittany Osborn, who is a council representative. The advertising consisted of posters and leaflets the children made themselves and daily announcements on the school intercom by Julia.

The volunteer effort is just one of many projects that the Stearley Heights Elementary School education system offers their students, enabling them to become directly involved with educational and social activities outside of the classroom. The students take a "hands-on" approach, which has created a high level of school pride and a much greater awareness about their community and other world issues. Next year, the Student Council is planning to collect clothes and food for the homeless.

Julia further explained, "Our school is different than other schools. We start earlier, and we have a lot more activities." The events she and the other student council members organize throughout the year have also given students an opportunity to discover more about their own talents and aspirations, while also making school an enjoyable place to learn. Students can participate in a wide range of clubs, some of which include: "taiko" drum, broadcasting, arts and crafts, and roller skating. "It's fun to get involved with the projects," added Julia.

"We think of different ways to improve the school. We also think of entertainment for the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders - like movies, dances, and different games," said Student Council members Jon Atkins and David Gross. In late January or early February of next year the children are planning an "African-American Social Gathering." The event will introduce all students to the different cultures and customs of Africa, while providing a friendly atmosphere for students to have fun.

Student Council representative Candace Winters also explained that the students go out and pick up trash around their school on certain days. The "trash days" have helped the school to win awards, and also has created more environmental awareness among the children.

Each one of the Student Council members also strongly expressed that they feel their school is special because of the "excellent" and "very nice teachers".

In addition to the toy drive for Christmas, some 6th grade students participated in a special language arts activity, which had them read and recite Christmas stories to the 2nd graders at the school library. There were also displays and dramatizations emphasizing the celebrations of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, enriching the children's multi-cultural knowledge of different holiday celebrations.

Maxine Clark, who has been a teacher for 34 years explained that one of the focuses of DODEA is on more multi-cultural diversity. "It is important for our kids to learn customs and celebrations of everyone around the world," she said. "I think at all DOD schools, the children are really involved with activities. Both teachers and children really take pride in their school."

Japan Update congratulates the children of Stearley Elementary, who have given their best to make this year's holiday season brighter for other children, and who have shown by example how education and direct involvement can make positive changes.

The Stearley Heights Elementary School officers are: Julia Rydzewski, Andrea McGee, Mckenna Easley, and Trae Dashiell. The representatives are: Brittany Travis, Portia Leblanc, Jon Atkins, Clara Young, Laura Oliver, Brittany Osborn, Francine Wade, David Gross, Asheli Alley, Rafael Arnold, Asheli Atkins, and Candace Winters.

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