Our school is filled with tradition, and one of the favorite ones every single year is Polar Express Day. It takes a huge team of volunteers to pull off this schoolwide event, but it is always a magical day for our students. Every student hears The Polar Express read aloud while sipping hot chocolate in their pajamas. Every child receives a bell with the message of “always believe” whispered in their ears. Each child also receives a candy cane on the way back to class.
Ahead of the event, volunteers purchase supplies to make bells for 600 students. They spend a morning stringing the bells and prepping them for quick delivery to students on event day. Another volunteer list is created to help on the day of the event as we have every class in the school come through the library. A schedule is created and approved by the teachers. This year, that schedule was very tight due to our increasing size. Some sessions had 3 classes in them.
The day before the event, the lunchroom gets the hot chocolate so that it is prepped and ready to go. A special spirit committee meets late at night and transforms the school into the north pole with train tracks, crackling fires, ornaments, and lights. It is a magical arrival to school.
The first team of volunteers pick up the hot chocolate and start getting it ready for the first group. At that point, things repeat every 30 minutes. Music is played as students enter. Hot chocolate is passed out during the hot chocolate song by a team of 3-6 volunteers.
We listen to the story while a teacher holds the book. Then, the same team of volunteers put the bells around all the students’ necks. Immediately, there is a chorus of bells ringing around the room as students check to see if their bells actually ring. As always, there were special moments such as a former Barrow buddy returning to hold the book for a grade level.
This year, we even had a spontaneous sing along of Jingle Bells.
Thank you to each and every person who made the 2015 Polar Express day another great success.
The more I think about Polar Express Day, the more it seems like the perfect paradigm of an event. You’re appealing to all five senses — taste and smell (with the hot chocolate), sight (the decorations), sound (the bells), and touch (the pajamas) — and you’re also bringing in kinesthetic and emotional dimensions, with the physical journey to the library and the volunteers whispering “Always believe.” Did you design Polar Express Day with these objectives in mind, or were they a natural byproduct of trying to make the event as fun as possible?
(By the way, I’m a humongous fan of this blog. Whenever someone asks me if school libraries are outdated, I tell them about the amazing space you’ve created in your school and the central role you take in accomplishing so many different learning objectives.)
Thank you so much for you kind words about the blog and the library program. It means a lot!
Over time, new layers have been added to Polar Express to make it more magical. I didn’t specifically think about all of the senses, but this such an interesting thing to point out. The event seems so simple to me, but it’s one of the memories that students talk about when they share favorite moments from the year or their elementary school career. I think what you pointed out could be a big part of the reason it stands out. Even in its simplicity, it has a lot of layers.