Sophomore Plays Santa for her Peers

Two Johnston high School students smile after opening a present and receiving a new book.

Alison (left) and Becky (right) share excitement over a new book.

A simple observation gave Johnston High School sophomore Alison Schrad the idea to play Santa for her fellow students.

While in the library, she noticed a classroom of special education students enjoying books and reading stories with their teachers. After talking about it with a friend, Schrad got in contact with JHS special education teacher Sallie Hedgepeth to see if her peers might like to receive some new books as little presents right before the holiday season.

“It’s the time of year when giving and giving back is on everyone’s mind,” Schrad said. “A lot of people don’t realize our special education peers might not get to enjoy something like a secret Santa exchange with friends or other little gift games. So, I decided this is something I could do and hoped they would like.”

Hedgepeth said the act of kindness makes an impact on her students.

“The students receive t-shirts, parties, food, etc., but most are never at the receiving end of a book – people assume that if they can’t read,” Hedgepeth said. “However, Alison saw their enjoyment at being read to and wanted to give them something that was their own.  You can see from their faces, their interaction with the book gifts, the vocalizations you hear – whether it’s words or not.  This was a very special gift for them.”

Schrad purchased ten books for the students out of her own funds. Each student got to open at least two presents and were thrilled to see some new books under the wrapping paper.

“Ms. Hedgepeth helped me with the type of books to pick out,” Schrad said. “There are some Dr. Suess books, books about animals, a dinosaur book, one about Christmas, and a few others. These are books they can look at and read by themselves or with a teacher.”

Schrad was a peer helper when she attended Johnston Middle School and worked with special education students in the physical education classes. She said little efforts like this help them feel included in the high school environment.

“A small act of kindness can really brighten a peer’s day or week,” Schrad said. “I’m happy I got to play Santa for them and give them something they will enjoy for a long time.”