The Polar Express train took its annual trip to Harmony Elementary to spread the joy and spirit of the holiday season. For the past six years, students in West Valley High School’s Yes I Can program perform a special reading to the first grade students at Harmony.
West Valley’s Yes I Can program allows special needs students to be a part of all aspects of the high school experience. Students in the general education classrooms are selected to come into the special education classrooms and help the students with reading, writing, mathematics, or by playing games with them. These interactions not only helps the special needs students with social interactions, but it allows them to connect with their peers on campus.
Joyce Stange, an Instructional Aide, puts on the Polar Express each year. She said it takes a couple weeks for the students to prepare for the performance. Students watch the movie, read the book, and then pick out their costumes. A week before the performance Stange and another staff member dress up in their conductor costumes and go to Harmony to hand the first grade students their golden train ticket. They show the students the Polar Express book and invite them on an imaginary trip to the North Pole.
Teachers and advisors for the Yes I Can program hand select people to read the Polar Express story while the students in Yes I Can hand out hot chocolate, dance and get the students to engage in the story, recite the conductor’s lines, and ring the bells asking if the younger students can hear them. Stange said they like to invite readers who would get the most out of the experience.
“The most amazing thing to observe while being a part of the Polar Express experience from the beginning to the end, is the growth of friendships, excitement, and magic from the high school students. The magic isn’t only in the eyes of the little children; it envelops the countenance of the high school students themselves. Through the eyes of the children and into the eyes of these future adults comes the pure joy of Christmas, serving others,” said Stange.
Stange said she looks forward to this performance every year and is thankful for the staff that helps support her. She thanked West Valley’s ASB Director Thomas Windmiller, ASB Coordinator Timm Hannem, and Special Education Teacher Richard Dyckman for their support in making this such a valuable tradition!