As the holiday season approaches, families gather, share meals, reflect on the year, and give thanks for those around them. It is also a time for children to see the importance of community and compassion.
I’ve been incredibly proud of our students this month (and every month) for what they contribute to our community. Our Bluejacket Way emphasizes five key character traits: compassion, self-discipline, honesty, respect and responsibility. In my mind, this is the season for compassion above all else.
At each of our schools, students have learned that there are community members among us for whom the holidays are less bright. And our children have learned that they can make a difference in the life of another.
For example, our primary schools participated in our annual MINNCO’s Angel Tree donation program, which will make several families’ Christmases a bit merrier this season. Our intermediate and middle schools each ran highly successful food drives to benefit our local food pantry and collected nearly 1,500 non-perishable items.
Sharing and Caring Toy Drives were held that collected over 200 items for donation. Students and staff were excited when several of our students had the opportunity to Shop-with-A-Cop at Walmart. Our area Rotary and Lions Clubs also partnered with our schools to give each of our third graders a dictionary of their own, as well as facilitated a gift drive in the spirit of the holiday season. Our high school student council members worked with our local Family Pathways program to lead a food and fund drive focused on supporting families in our community.
These acts of kindness and compassion will have a lasting impact on the youth in our community. Educational research tells us that when students are engaged in service to others, they often receive an intrinsic benefit that far exceeds the community benefit of their actions. It’s learning a duty to community that gives youth a sense of pride and helps a community thrive.
As superintendent, I have the opportunity to count my blessings each and every day as I visit classrooms and witness great things happening with our children. I am in awe of our teachers and staff members who bring out the best in our students each day.
The next two weeks, however, also bring some worry.
Winter break – when schools close – can be especially hard for some children and families, even with the holidays. As educators, these weeks weigh heavy on our hearts. We know that dozens of families in our community are homeless, and hundreds of children rely on free school lunch. Facing economic challenges, many families lack sufficient funds to buy winter clothing or fully heat their homes.
If a family member is struggling with a chronic illness, mental health issue or addiction, the holidays may bring added anxiety and worry for kids. And for children who are missing a parent or loved one, the holidays can feel especially lonely.
There are support services available in our community, and our schools are a primary resource for families in need. So if you or a neighbor are facing challenges or know families with children in need, please contact our schools. We are a confidential connector to other supports in our community. You are not alone.
As we give thanks for the love that surrounds us, let’s remember to reach out to others with compassion this holiday season. Check on a neighbor. Ask your child about his/her friends who may need a little support. Invite a family over for a meal if you are able. Pay special attention to the needs of those around you.
Compassion is a gift that can be given in abundance. I see it everywhere in our community. After all, it’s the Bluejacket Way. Here’s to sharing it with all!
Dr. Nate Rudolph is superintendent of Cambridge-Isanti Schools.