Polar Express Day: A Barrow Tradition Filled with Community

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Ask any Barrow student about some of their favorite events from the year and Polar Express Day will most likely be on the list.  Every year in December, our school transforms into a train station with a train bound for the North Pole.  We wear our pajamas to school, and every class in the school comes to the library to listen to the Polar Express.  On their way, students pass by numerous decorations that have magically appeared overnight.

They sit in rows as if on a train and are served hot chocolate while the hot chocolate song plays overhead.

Then, students listen to the story.  At the end of the story, every student receives a bell with the word “Always Believe” whispered into their ear.

As they exit, they each receive a candy cane as they return from the North Pole back to their classrooms.  I love watching the magic happen for our PreK students as well as students who are new to Barrow, and I love the excitement and bit of sorrow that 5th grade students have as they experience their final Polar Express.

Each year, this event amazes me by the amount of community that is involved in staging the event.

  • Our principal organizes a schedule and gets feedback from the teachers about their assigned time.  She also purchases hot chocolate, cups, and candy canes and arranges with the lunchroom to have the hot chocolate made throughout the day.

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  • A parent volunteer creates a volunteer sign up to have about 3 adults at each Polar Express session to assist with preparing hot chocolate, serving it, and handing out bells.  This year I also had tremendous help from Perrin, a former Barrow student, who came back to volunteer for the entire day.  She organized volunteers and made sure our hot chocolate kept flowing all day long.

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  • Some years, a team of volunteers have a bell stringing day where they prepare all of the bells and store them individually in egg carton trays.  This year, a retired teacher prepared all 575 bells for us.  Thank you Terri Sheppard!

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  • I setup the library.  This year, I arranged the shelves to form a path that took students to their seats.  I lined the path with white lights, flowers, stockings, and a tree.  I also setup the chairs, spotlight to shine on the book, and falling snow on our projection board.

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  • Overnight, a team of teachers take time to decorate the hallway.  This special group is our spirit committee and always involves teachers like Mimi Elliott-Gower, Sarah Britton Vaughn, Allison Griffith, and anyone else they can round up.  The kids love coming in to see what the school looks like on this special day.

One of the students who was leaving Polar Express gave me a huge hug and said, “Mr. Plemmons…we are so lucky at our school to have things like this.”  Another student said, “Thank you, Mr. Plemmons, for having this for us.”  It took me by surprise, but I couldn’t agree more.  I’m so thankful for our sense of community that pulls together to make these kinds of events truly magical for students.

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