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Courtesy of Erin Gallagher
Fourth grade students at PS 159 decorate cupcakes and make out holiday cards to thank a teacher or staff member at the school who has helped or inspired them.
By Tom Momberg

Students at PS 159 in Bayside are giving back this holiday season—something they are encouraged to do year round, but they are learning the importance of going the extra mile this time of year.

The fourth- and fifth-grade members of the student council organize volunteer efforts and charity drives every year with the help of faculty.

But teachers in one fourth grade class introduced “giving back week,” between Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa, along with three projects for their kids to learn how important community is in each of the holidays.

Students collected pet food, old towels and pet care items all week long. With some of the school faculty and staff pitching in, teachers Erin Gallagher, Vanessa Giordano, Lina Buzzetta and Laurie Croker donated the full large collection bin to the North Shore Animal League in Port Washington.

Ashley Cho, 9, who is on the student council and made some contributions to the collection drive, said many people want to adopt pets for their families during the holidays, so the items her class collected help make sure they are adoptable.

“I think this is a pretty important task, because people want pets that are healthy and this helps to ensure they are well cared for,” Cho said.

Kayla Metrak, 9, who is also the vice president of the student council, touted all of the work the council has done over the last year, such as the character parade to benefit the March of Dimes, a collection for a toy drive and fund-raisers for Penny Harvest.

But Metrak said people must help those from all walks of life at this time of year, so she looked forward to the drive for the animal league.

“It’s going to be snowing,” she said. “And with really bad weather, it’s important for puppies to be inside and taken care of.”

Every student in the class was also tasked with showing appreciation to some of the school’s faculty and staff. They decorated cupcakes and created thank you cards to send to a teacher who inspired them, or a school safety officer, food or sanitation worker.

Brenden Onyiego, 10, said he wrote back to his second-grade teacher.

“She just has taught me so much,” Onyiego said. “Now that we are older, we should look back and remember what we learned and who helped us.”

Finally, students were also asked to write out cards as charity. They chose between writing holiday cards to deployed soldiers or to Sa’Fyre Terry, who was left parentless and badly burned after a fire in her Schenectady home—making a call out to the nation for Christmas cards.

Gallagher said it was inspiring to see her students enjoy doing things for others.

“I think it’s important for kids to understand that the holidays aren’t just about receiving, but more importantly that they’re about giving back to others,” she said.

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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