Faces were all aglow and voices raised in delight as 36 three, four and five year old Head Start students got an early visit from Santa Claus Tuesday, thanks to Bartow High School’s DCT students.
Led by instructor Mike Brennan, the 30 Diversified Cooperative Training students raised money to buy each child at the Gibbons Street Elementary School Head Start classrooms a $10 gift, putting dolls in girls’ hands and building sets in the boys’.
Brennan said this was the 17th year the BHS DCT students had financed and delivered the toy purchase to the east Bartow school, but this year a hefty part of the tab was picked up by Walmart through a $500 donation to the effort.
“The kids raised the rest at our Halloween Haunted Hall,” Brennan explained. “All told, we had about $700 and what we didn’t spend we’ll keep for next year,” he added.
He further said that in earlier years, the entire donation was paid for from receipts from snack sales at the school, but the snack sales were banned this year and they had to look for other revenue sources.
“If it wasn’t for Walmart, we wouldn’t have been able to do this,” he said as 34 boys and girls ripped colorful Christmas paper from their packages and squealed in delight at their gifts. Brennan said a half dozen of his students shopped for the gifts and the entire DCT class spent Tuesday’s class period wrapping and tagging the gifts.
Even Santa was a DCT student, but shhhhh, don’t tell anyone. This year, Daniel Till got the honor, explained Brennan. “We got the Santa outfit a year ago from Party City,” he explained. “They gave us a great discount so we could do this right.”
After each child received his or her gift, under the guidance of Head Start Parent Outreach Coordinator Dawn Strickland, they went to Santa to say thank you. Some of the girls climbed on Santa’s knee and the boys mostly just shook the jolly old elf’s hand.
There were 14 boys and 22 girls in the combined Head Start classes, said Strickland, but the DCT students purchased about ten extras.
“We always ask for more than the number of students we have,” Strickland explained. “We have some of the students with siblings so, we try to take care of them as well. And, we usually have some children absent the day of the party. We’ll see those gifts are delivered to them.”
“This is great thing,”said Head Start teacher Ashlee Melbourne. “For some of these kids, it could be all they get.”
Head Start is a federally funded pre-kindergarten program that educates economically disadvantaged children gain the learning and social skills needed to be successful in elementary school. There are more than 900 students in Head Start programs throughout the county.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Brennan said. “It’s about the kids.”