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Christmas in July

"Our staff was looking for a fun summer event to inspire our students to continue reading, and we were also looking for a way to provide books for our children to keep in their homes," Wendee Long recalls. "Santa giving the gift of books proved to be an excellent means of getting them into the hands of our students."

Birdneck Elementary School hired a professional Santa to visit the surrounding area and celebrate Christmas in July by distributing books that promote summer reading. A parent involvement coordinator, Long was heavily involved with the program, as was the principal, who dressed as the "Grinch Who Stole Christmas" and drove Santa's jeep. After all, how else would the man in red get around Virginia Beach, Virginia, in summer?

[content block] "There is no way to know ahead of time what to expect, so the large turnout of families in the neighborhood was a wonderful surprise," Long told Education World. "The families loved the event. Many attended because of advertisements, but many also came as a result of simply seeing families and teachers outside getting things ready."

The news coverage that Santa's visit received was equally unexpected and a boon to the program. While they know that their Santa delivered books directly to families, teachers continue to watch for improvements in test scores that may indicate the children are reading more at home. Feedback from the students and their parents about the book selections has been very positive.

"There were many children who were excited about selecting their books," said Long. "The idea that this was a new book to keep was exciting for them. Seeing the teachers in the neighborhood during the summer was also a thrill for the children."

The work involved in scheduling the neighborhood visit, obtaining supplies, and organizing volunteers paid off when Long and her colleagues watched the children's faces as they laid eyes on the book-bearing Santa. He led the group in singing Christmas carols, and he read Twas the Night Before Christmas. The children met individually with Santa and cooled off with popsicles. Even younger siblings received age-appropriate books to encourage early literacy skills, a tribute to excellent planning.

"It is wise to plan ahead and advertise in the final school newsletter or in information that you send home with the children. This puts the idea out there," Long advised. "We also obtained permission to distribute flyers in the neighborhood prior to the event."

Santa's "Christmas in July" event from Birdneck Elementary is in its third year, and each visit adds something new and fun for the kids during the ho-ho-hot summer!