Brenda Mehdian, staff writer; Michelle Banayan, news editor
As senior Service Learning Co-President Simon Hedvat, clad in a Santa suit, entered Albion Street Elementary School’s fifth grade class, the students’ faces lit up.
The kids anxiously watched as Santa made his way to the front of the class while his elves organized the presents. After being handed a gift, the students ran back to their seats with giddy smiles as they shook their wrapped boxes, trying to guess what the packages may hold inside.
“On three you can open your gifts,” senior Ashley Kermani said. “One…Two…Three!”
Wrapping paper flew all over the class as students delved into their presents in order to tame their curiosity. The boys received a West-Coast Customs toy car while the girls were given Cra-Z-Loom bracelet makers.
“I love this gift. I have always wanted to make bracelets this way, just like my friends have been doing, but I asked my mom and we didn’t have enough money,” fifth grader Natalie said. “I can’t wait to use it.”
This is the 86th year in which seniors and various clubs on campus have visited Albion Street Elementary School during the holidays. However, throughout the event’s history, its structure has not always remained the same.
“When I started teaching at Beverly, the Service Learning program just began, so it was only Mr. Zadeh running Albion Street on his own, and he was running it very differently. He didn’t have a class that was helping him,” Halimi said. “As Service Learning grew, the class took on the event because it is directly in line with what we do on a regular basis. Now we have students running the logistics instead of a faculty member.”
The “logistics” that Service Learning manage range from organizing the Beverly students who will participate to raising money to purchase gifts, a thousand dollars of which is donated by an outside donor.
“Purchasing toys for the kids was stressful,” senior Emily Dekhtyar, who was on the planning committee for Albion Street, said. “It was especially difficult working with Toys R Us because the store wasn’t the most accommodating. But [the work] was rewarding in the end.”
Before the Beverly students, dressed festively in winter sweaters and Santa hats, left for Albion Street Elementary School, they were each put into groups and assigned a classroom, in which they’d stay throughout their day. Students had the opportunity to bond with the children during recess, classroom activities and assemblies.
“I always loved seeing the teacher who led the [Madrigals], Mr. Pressman,” sixth grade teacher Mr. Satragani said. “Gosh, he was just always, always smiling and had a great laugh. I miss him and he is with us.”
Additionally, Hedvat paid a visit to each classroom, delivering toys to every student. These visits, according to kindergartener Israel, make him “just feel happy.”
“When the kids open their gifts and I see the looks on their faces, I notice how they get so excited and I feel so good,” fifth grade teacher Ms. Havlik said. “It’s genuine. I know they aren’t faking it.”
Furthermore, Santa’s visit seems to strongly resonate with the students of Albion Street, both today and in years to come.
“About three years ago, Service Learning received a letter from a student who attended Albion Street and graduated in the ‘60s,” Halimi said. “It said that the Beverly kids’ visit was his most memorable experience in elementary school and he still remembers it every Christmas.”
Moreover, Beverly seniors who partook in the most recent visit recalled the gift-giving as a highlight of their day.
“I loved meeting the children and realizing how appreciative they were for their Lego gifts. Some kids in my class never had received Legos before, so it was really cute to help them put the pieces of the toy together,” David Prokopenko, who volunteered in a second grade classroom, said.
Halimi agrees, stating that this “is a really humbling experience for Beverly kids.”
“It takes them to a place where they realize all the little things they take for granted. For a lot of these kids in Albion Street, the gifts we give are the only ones they get for Christmas; whereas in Beverly Hills, our experience is really different,” she said.
Service Learning plans to keep the nearly 90-year-old holiday tradition alive in years to come, while also expanding on its contact with Albion Street Elementary School. The group is considering bringing sixth graders from the sister school to Beverly so they can shadow students on campus for a day.
See the slideshow here: http://wp.me/p1ZZKo-2pq