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Elementary Students Spread Holiday Message

Two elementary schools in Springfield got a chance to show their dedication to the Community of Caring program during the holiday season by reaching out to others with toys and poinsettias recently.

The students at West Springfield Elementary School collected toys for students at another school where the families were less fortunate. Some of the toys and stuffed animals were from home, the others were brand new. The students were glad to chip in.

"I thought it would be kind of nice because it would be helping people," said Elle Kine.

Devan Warden, 7, looked at the pile of toys while in line with the rest of the children. The purple, bigfoot-looking toy from Monsters Inc. caught his eye.

"I know it's really neat," he said. "That's a DVD movie. I have it."

Stephanie Wilkinson, 8, of the second grade, was glad to help put the toys in bags so they could be taken to the other school.

"Some kids don't even get toys for Christmas," she said.

The first- and second-graders are mixed in some of the classes at West Springfield. Teachers involved were Joy Neyland, Candi Heinzman, Amanda Fuller, Betsy Cochran and Jennifer Pendley. They were reading the Judy Moody books, and that's where they got the idea.

"In it, she brings toys to the hospital," said Amanda Fuller.

West Springfield counselor Iris Warren is the community-of-caring coordinator. She noted the effect a program like this has with the students.

"The hands-on approach. Not only going through their toys at home, then they come to school and sort them. Each of our grades has a service learning project," she said.

Betsy Cochran saw the effect of having all the toys gathered in one room as the first- and second-graders helped sort them out.

"The whole school collected everything," she said. "Seeing it all put together in a giant pile they were able to see how generous the school is."

The school they are donating to is part of the Head Start program in the Fairfax County Schools.

Kevin Sutton, 7, had too many stuffed animals at home, so he brought two in to share.

"I have lots of them," he said.

OVER AT CRESTWOOD ELEMENTARY, a mentoring program of 50 third- and fifth-graders painted pots and then planted poinsettias for seniors at Leewood Retirement Community in North Springfield. Their program was funded by the Washington Redskins, who have paired up with Crestwood on a number of student activities. It was designed to promote volunteering. Although it wasn't directly related to the community-of-caring program, assistant principal Lauren Sheehy thought it was beneficial to the students.

"We wanted to do some volunteer activity," she said.

Terra cotta pots were painted by the students, who then planted the colorful holiday plants in them.

"They're hand-painting the holiday cheer message," she said.

Shelley Summers was the third grade teacher whose students were paired up with their fifth grade counterparts.

"They're pen pals to each other," she said.

Summers sees the advantage to the fifth graders as well.

"It gives them a sense of responsibility, they get to give advice," she said.

Breanna Mead, 8, learned from her fifth grade partner.

"She taught me don't paint on the top, you'll get paint on your hand," she said.

Michelle Alleger, 8, also got a lesson from her partner.

"She told me not to use so much paint, it turns into a blob," she said.

Katelyn Tornquist, 10, thought about how the seniors at Leewood might respond.

"They might not have a lot of people visiting them