Polar Express 2012 & Participatory Culture

5th Graders received special blue bells this year

5th Graders received special blue bells this year

Every year our Polar Express Day is an event that students, teachers, and families look forward to.  We of course wear our pajamas and listen to the story in the school library, but it’s much more than that.  We want students to experience the story.  A conductor with a flickering lantern meets classes and leads them to the train tracks of the Polar Express.  The path is lined with multiple decorations:  lights, student-made art, train tracks, a ticket booth, railroad signs, and more.

Here’s what the students saw this year:

A sample of music from the Polar Express movie plays while students enter the library and take their seats.  A spotlight illuminates the book that awaits them.  The hot chocolate song comes on and students are served hot chocolate with marshmallows.  After listening to the story, every child receives a bell placed around their neck with the words “always believe” whispered in their ears.  Students immediately begin shaking their bells, which sounds like this:

As they exit the library, they receive a candy cane.  Many of our 5th graders cry on this day as they experience their final Polar Express Day.  We have even started having a Polar Express alumni night for people to come back and experience the magic.

This year, I’ve been thinking about our participatory culture and how much participation is involved in this event.  Here are some examples:

  • Our principal organizes a schedule, volunteers, and materials
  • Our lunchroom staff makes hot chocolate
  • Parent volunteers purchase all of the materials and supplies
  • Parent volunteers (and some students) string the 450 bells
  • Parent volunteers pour and serve the hot chocolate and place bells around students’ necks
  • Teachers and students work with me to decorate the library and hallways.  Many teachers come back at night to decorate in order to have the element of surprise on the morning of Polar Express.  Every year, the decorations are different depending on what the teachers dream up in the moment.
  • This year, for the first time, many students made decorations to line the hallways with.  One of our enrichment clusters made decorations and some students made decorations on their own.

At times, I’ve felt guilty that so many people help with this event, but this year things began to click in my mind as I realized that this is an event sponsored by the library that is truly owned by the entire school.  I hope to think more about this in years to come and look for more ways that students can be involved in this special day.

 

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