Polar Express 2016


Every year that we have our Polar Express Day, I’m reminded of the power of community. School-wide events are so rewarding, but they take a lot of work to pull off.  The library hosts multiple school-wide events every year.  A team of special elves come together to make Polar Express Day a special event for every child in our school.  It is often one of the big memories that students have about their year and their experience at Barrow.

Many schools ask us what goes into our Polar Express Day, so here’s a little peek:

  • Our principal creates a schedule so that every class in the school gets a time to come to the library to hear the Polar Express. Most 30-minute sessions 2-3 classes at a time
  • Janice Flory, our library volunteer coordinator (a PTA role) buys bells, string, hot chocolate, cups, and candy canes through PTA.  She also organizes volunteers to help each Polar Express session during the day
  • A group of volunteers works on stringing 600 bells so that every student in the school gets a bell.  This year it was a wonderful troop of Girl Scouts
  • I work on setting up the library with special decorations, chairs, and banners.  I make sure the technical side of Polar Express is working such as the train sounds, read aloud, and special music.  I also work with our volunteer coordinator to make sure all of the pieces are running smoothly.
  • A team of teachers come overnight the night before Polar Express Day and create special hallway decorations such as a train track, ticket booth, and ornaments
  • Our lunchroom makes huge batches of hot chocolate
  • On the day of the event, teams of volunteers help pour and serve hot chocolate as well as hang bells around each student and whisper “Always Believe”.  Kim Ness, parent volunteer extraordinaire & Janice Flory, library volunteer coordinator, help keep the volunteers organized all day.
  • Teachers do special activities in their classrooms such as making Polar Express tickets. They also hold the book as we listen to the story over the library speakers
  • Our family engagement specialist organizes a nighttime Polar Express for Barrow alumni
  • On the day of the event, there’s always lots of odd and ends that have to be done and we all work together to get it done. It is a tight schedule and takes quick moving in between sessions to reset everything for the next group
  • This year we added a green screen photo booth to take a picture with the book as the background. Teachers helped a lot with this as well as our principal.  Next year, we’ll need to have someone stationed here to help it run smoothly


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Prek enthusiasm #polarexpress #alwaysbelieve #bells

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Our green screen was a favorite activity this year.  Many teachers jumped in to help with this one because it was a little bit tricky if the app stopped working.  We’ll keep thinking how to make this station a little bit better next year.  Even with some glitches, we got some fun pictures of classes.

Each year holds special memories for Polar Express.  There are special little moments from students all throughout the day. I’m so thankful to have  community who comes together to create this magical event of always believing.



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

Polar Express (22) Polar Express (29) Polar Express (16)

Storybook Celebration 2013

Storybook RouteStorybook Parade has been a Barrow tradition for many years.  Over the past couple of years, we transistioned from a morning parade to a day-long event.  Our schedule now looks something like this:

  • 8:00 Guest readers in every classroom.  These readers are parents, family members, community members, and local celebrities.
  • 8:30 Classrooms prep for an assembly where we get to see all of the great costumes.  Every child dresses as a character from a book.
  • 9:00 Assembly.  All classes walk across the stage to be seen.
  • 10:00 Parade.  We march in a single file line out of the front doors of the school and parade down the sidewalks surrounding the UGA Athletic Department, UGA practice fields, and the UGA track.
  • 10:30-2:30 Classes continue to hold literature-related activities and sign up for special classes offered throughout the school.

I organize most of the day’s events,  but it couldn’t all be done alone.  There are just too many pieces to do by myself.  This year for guest readers, I created a Signup Genius.  I emailed all of our volunteers and former readers, shared the link on Facebook and Twitter, and put it in my newsletter.  Camilla Bracewell, Barrow grandparent, also made some phone calls and emails to recruite readers.  It didn’t take very long to schedule enough readers for every class, but as usual, during the days leading up to the event, we started getting cancellations.  Rather than scramble to find more readers, I had our administrators and specials teachers on standby to read in the event that we needed them.

storybook (32)For the assembly, I wanted to speed up every class walking across the stage.  In the past, every class has written a blurb about their class for me to read.  Some classes write a short blurb while others feel the need to describe every costume.  This year, Mimi Elliot-Gower, our family engagement specialist, had an idea to use quotes about reading.  I made a Google doc of reading quotes and let teachers sign up for a quote that represented her class.  I read these quotes as classes went across the stage and we tried to keep a constant flow of traffic.

For the parade, we changed our route this year.  We used to parade up to Five Points and back, but Lumpkin Street has gotten so busy that we wanted to move most of the parade to some streets that were a bit less congested.  Our 5th graders got to make a special stop at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education and have some hot chocolate.  Our family engagement specialist, Mimi Elliot-Gower and counselor, Lauren McElhannon, setup this special treat.

storybook (10)Back at Barrow, teachers had lots of options for what their classes might do the rest of the day.  Every specials, EIP, special education, and gifted teacher offered sessions for classes to sign up for.  I created a Google spreadsheet schedule and teachers could sign up for up to 2 thirty minute sessions.  Examples included:

It was a fantastic day with so many books represented.  Each year this day grows a little more and includes a few new ideas.  Who knows where it will go next year.

storybook (51)We would like to thank all of our guest readers who came out today to celebrate with us:

  • Brenda Moon
  • Dr. Lanoue
  • Kim Ness
  • Ralph Stephens
  • Alicia Battle
  • Paula Shilton
  • Carol Williams
  • Denise Sims
  • Selby Merritt & Isabel
  • Bryn Adamson
  • Leslye Queen
  • Debra Lassiter
  • Terry Nestor
  • Paul Lee
  • Matt Winston
  • Chis Stutz
  • Josh Miles
  • Gail Schrader
  • David Meyers
  • Kathy Hoard
  • Ken Mauldin
  • Robert Miles
  • Alex Patterson
  • Utevia Tolbert