Polar Express 2015

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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.

Polar Express Day 2013

Polar Express (14)A favorite day for Barrow students is our annual Polar Express Day.  This year was our first year back in our new building, so of course, this day brought new surprises for students.  All of the favorite traditions were there, too:

  • All students wore pajamas.  Our counselor, family engagement specialist, and PTA made sure that all students had pajamas.
  • Every class came to the library to listen to the Polar Express read by William Hurt
  • Students were served hot chocolate with marshmallows by several fantastic volunteers.
  • Each student received a bell placed around their neck with the word “Always Believe” whispered in their ear.
  • Each student received a candy cane as they left the library.

Some new surprises this year:

  • Kevin O’Neil, Barrow Dad, dressed up as a waiter to serve the 1st 2 groups hot chocolate
  • Our school was decorated in several collaborative spaces for multiple holidays, not just Christmas
  • 3 sets of train tracks brought kids to the library
  • Our display wall outside the library was transformed into a train.  The tv screens all displayed images from Polar Express
  • Holiday music was played throughout the halls
  • The projectors in the collaborative space played a crackling fire
  • The projector in the library played falling snow
  • This year our hot chocolate pouring and bell prep was in a separate room so it wasn’t as distracting to the kids
  • The train schedule of classes was posted outside the library

Polar Express (23)This is truly a magical day.  It takes a huge team effort to pull this off.  There are so many hands in this day that it’s hard to list them all.  Many thanks to:

  • Our lunchroom staff for fixing chocolate for 500 on top of fixing breakfast and lunch
  • Our principal for organizing volunteers through Signup Genius, creating a schedule, and making sure supplies were bought
  • Volunteers who went out to search the stores for bells, string, hot chocolate, cups, napkins, and candy canes.  It was quite a big search!
  • Our PTA for helping string 500+ bells
  • Sarah Britton Vaughn, Mimi Elliott-Gower, Allision Griffith, and several others who stayed late Tuesday night to put up some extra magic in the hallways
  • Multiple volunteers who poured hot chocolate, put bells around necks, and cleaned up spills
  • Todd Hollett for working long hours to figure out our hallway technology

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Mysteries of Harris Burdick Contest

Over the past month, students from all grade levels at our school have been participating in a writing contest sponsored by Avid Bookshop, a new independent bookshop in Athens.  We had over 50 students enter the contest, and I’ve heard that Avid received hundreds of entries from local schools.  Today, the finalists were announced.  They will be honored this Sunday November 13th at Avid from 1-3:00PM.  Some of the students will read from their stories and the top winner will be announced.  The top winner’s story will be submitted to a national contest sponsored by Chris Van Allsburg in celebration of his new compilation, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick.  

Congratulations to our Barrow finalists:

Amelia Ray and Hanna Lee

We hope to see lots of supporters at Avid on Sunday.

Avid Bookshop

493 Prince Avenue

Athens, GA