By Sarah Beauchemin

One of the most rewarding aspects of the holiday season is the increased attention and care that’s given to our communities, especially to those in need.

That’s why The O’Farrell Charter School is dedicated to giving back to the community – and to its families – in many ways.

“During the holiday season, reaching out and giving to others helps our students understand they’re part of a larger community,” said Anne Mathews, The O’Farrell Charter School’s principal. “They recognize that their acts of kindness help others.”

There are numerous ways in which OCS students can get involved with helping their community, from participating in the holiday canned food drive to buddying up with younger classmates to make gifts for family members.

[call_to_action color=”” button_text=”Click here to enroll” button_url=”″]Open enrollment is happening now at The O’Farrell Charter School through December 30th. Enroll your student ASAP to get ready for the upcoming school year.[/call_to_action]Letters From the North Pole

For example, OCS high school theatre students are making sure that all their elementary school peers get responses to their questions and requests of Santa.

“Last year was The O’Farrell Charter School’s first graduating high school class, so I’d had my students all four years, from grade 9 through 12,” said Rosalia Crivello, OCS’s theater instructor. “We became a really close-knit family. I wanted to carry over that sentiment this year with the new incoming freshmen.”

One way to do that was to ask students to consider what they could do over the holidays to help others. An incoming freshman came up with the idea of having the elementary students write letters to Santa that the theater students would answer.

“It was such a fantastic idea, and everyone got on board right away,” Crivello said. Her students set up mailboxes in the elementary school, where the kids will deposit their handwritten notes to Santa or his reindeer. The high schoolers will then answer the letters and deliver them back to each student’s “homebase” instructor – their assigned point of contact for any needs or issues that may arise.

Photo courtesy  of The O'Farrell Charter School
Photo courtesy of The O’Farrell Charter School
Photo courtesy of The O’Farrell Charter School

Buddying Up For Holiday Spirit

Another important way The O’Farrell Charter School students are helping others is through the school’s unique buddy system, where every kindergarten classroom is paired with an eighth grade “buddy” classroom. Each student is assigned his or her own buddy for the whole school year.

“Our buddies come once a week to our classroom,” OCS kindergarten teacher Linda Chapin said. “We do things like reading, working on phonics, or going out on the playground together. My kids are so excited when their buddies show up that they’re screaming. They see them as role models and mentors.”

Photo courtesy of O'Farrell Charter School
Photo courtesy of The O’Farrell Charter School
Photo courtesy of The O’Farrell Charter School

And during the holiday season, The O’Farrell Charter School’s buddy system plays a huge role in helping kindergarteners get into the holiday spirit. For instance, this December the eighth graders helped their little buddies craft and construct paper elves – a challenging task for tiny hands. They also helped them complete their “elf applications,” where the kindergarteners filled out and decorated applications to work as Santa’s elves this season.

But most importantly, the eighth graders helped their little buddies make gifts for their families. This is especially significant in cases of financial hardship, where children are worried they have nothing to gift their family members.

“The buddies did a fantastic job helping my students make presents for their families,” Chapin said. “They spent so much time helping them with things like writing messages in the cards and piecing together ornaments.”

Helping All Students Have a Happy Holiday

The O’Farrell Charter School staff works hard to ensure that all their students have a good holiday in variety of ways, many of which are headed up by the on-campus Family Support Service (FSS) Department.

“Since 1990, FSS has been a collaborative effort between OCS, the County of San Diego, and SAY San Diego,” FSS Director Mary Skrabucha said. The FSS staff includes three full-time social workers and a CalWorks employee who are present every day to help OCS students as needed.

This holiday season, FSS was able to sign up 16 OCS students’ families to be part of SAY San Diego’s Adopt A Family program. FSS also launched a series of “winter workshops” for students – four hour-long after-school sessions where any OCS student could come to make gifts for their families.

“Financial hardship is a reality for many of our students,” Skrabucha said. “We thought that the winter workshops would alleviate some of the stress and pressure they felt about having gifts to give their siblings or parents.”

Students crafted succulent gardens, painted vases, decorated picture frames, and got creative with beads and other jewelry-making techniques. A card-making station, which included everything from markers to pinecones, was a particularly big hit. “I’ve never seen so much glitter in my life,” Skrabucha laughed.

Sarah Beauchemin writes for Voice of San Diego’s Partner Voices and is a freelance writer and content strategist for nonprofits, small businesses and...

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