By Coryne Wong
Put together 33 7th-graders, five 8th-graders, and five Special Day Class students from Taylor Middle School, mix that up with 16 Hillsdale High School SDC students, 14 Green Hills SDC children, 13 Laurel Elementary SDC students, 15 Meadows SDC students, stir in various parents, aides, teachers, fold gently, then add one very special Santa, and you get a wonderful celebration!
On December 13, general-education students from Taylor Middle School hosted their Little Buddies for an afternoon filled with pizza, drinks, desserts, stuffed animals, goodie bags, filled stockings, crafts, and of course, a visit from Santa! Elves assisted Santa to carry in 12 bags of presents!
Just after noon, Santa (Patch Associate Regional Editor Dave Colby) entered the room with bells ringing and a hearty HO-HO-HO!! As Santa traversed the room, students reached out to him, hoping to hold his hand, hug him, and say hello. The sparkle in their eyes, the joy, and the hope spoke loudly. This was mirrored by Santa.
The traditionally-garbed Kris Kringle sat on his special SANTA SEAT, decorated especially for him by the mischievous elves from Ms. Wong’s class. About 70 students sat crossed-legged on the floor or stood up near Santa, wishing and hoping for the special gift of happiness and magic that only he may bestow!
He stretched out his 6’4” frame and began calling names with a rumble and a smile in his voice. Santa patiently waited as some wanted to sit on his lap, whisper secrets, tug his beard, hug him, shake his hand, or merely say hello.
Michael is a veteran participant, this being his second year. When I asked him about Santa coming, he grinned from ear-to-ear; “Santa, for me?” Michael practiced saying “ho-ho-ho” for many weeks, and when Santa briefly left his seat today to give a gift to Lesly, who is in a wheelchair, Michael decided to take over for Santa! “Ho-ho-ho!”
Director of Educational Services, Debbie Burnette, Ed.D., relates:
“The Bridging the Gap event helps build self-esteem and friendships for all students involved. Buddies learn important life skills such as social interaction and compassion. I want to thank Coryne Wong for her dedication to all students. I hope more people will become involved in this powerful event as well as other similar events.”
Many Taylor Middle School general-education students apply to belong to Bridging the Gap, a program founded by then 9-year old Jarryck Wong-Whittington. Jarryck and his classmates, who were placed in an SDC classroom since kindergarten, were not allowed to go on field trips, attend assemblies, interact with the other students, nor participate in Outdoor Education.
Jarryck and his friends were bullied, ostracized, and called names. Jarryck asked me why? Why they call me stupid? Why can’t we go to these things? Why can’t they see how cool we are?
Although he fulfilled all of his community service points to attain an award, it was denied.
Hence, Bridging the Gap!
Since inception 7 years ago, we have first-hand witnessed tolerance, understanding, acceptance, and inclusion.
Jarryck says: Empower, Embrace, Educate!