Armonk, New York -- Wearing colorful, cozy pajamas, more than 100 Wampus Elementary School students poured into the cafeteria after school during Spirit Week last week on Tuesday and sprawled out on blankets and backpacks and got reading.
The 120 third, fourth and fifth graders were participating in a Read-a-Thon to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a fundraiser organized by the Interact Club at Byram Hills High School. The effort raised $790.
“It’s very inspiring to see the kids at the Byram Hills High School spending their time organizing the event for the younger kids, to help them stay involved and understand what it means to have service for others,” Wampus Assistant Principal David Mack said. “The kids coming in and reading for a great cause is just a good thing to see.”
The Interact Club is a community service group, and co-president Alan Chang, a senior, and club member Priscilla Zhang, a freshman, were on hand for the fundraiser.
The club has a personal connection to leukemia. Co-president Robert Waxman never got to meet his grandmother, who died of the disease before he was born, Alan said.
“Entering this year, we knew we wanted to raise awareness and come to the aid of a cause close to our club, thus agreeing to raise money for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society,” Alan said.
“To raise money, we wanted to not only reach out to the community, but specifically the Byram Hills School District,” he said. “Instead of just simply asking for donations, we wanted to promote Wampus educational endeavors and fun hobbies, thus coming up with the idea of the Read-a-Thon. This idea began last year, and we plan to continue it in the future and perfect it with each coming year.”
With generous hearts and a drive to help others, the Wampus community came together in December to donate and wrap a mountain of holiday gifts for children at the Pleasantville Cottage School.
Meeting after school on December 11, student and parent volunteers got busy wrapping the presents, a combination of cold-weather necessities like hats and gloves and gifts of makeup sets and sporting equipment.
By the time the last piece of tape was affixed to a colorful package, the gifts were piled high at the annual “Gift of Giving” event, organized by the Byram Hills PTSA’s Wampus Community Service Committee.
After the wrapping party, organizers brought about 20 large bags full of gifts to the Pleasantville Cottage School, a residential treatment center for children and young adults.
“We are thrilled we were able to make the holiday season bright for other kids in the community outside of Wampus,” said committee co-chairwoman Lyndie Fasold. “It really personified what the holiday season should be about - just giving back. This is the hallmark of what we’re trying to achieve through the Wampus Community Service Committee.”
This year, there were more people involved in the wrapping event, including Wampus students in the VIP Jr. community service club and Girl Scout and Brownie troops.
“The event was a huge success,” Mrs. Fasold said. “The involvement far surpassed what we had in previous years.”
Students who donated and wrapped gifts were happy to be helping others.
“It feels very good and it makes you really proud to know that you’re doing something very good,” said fifth grader Sophia Deeks, a member of VIP Jr.
Logan Verma, another fifth grader in VIP Jr., said: “It feels nice to help the community. It’s important during the holidays to give people joy and happiness.”
Third grader Riley Condon, who wrapped gifts with her Brownie troop, said the wrapping was fun and “it felt good to give stuff to people that don’t have many things.”
The gifts were donated to the Pleasantville Cottage School, where 215 children and young adults reside. Most of them are ages 13 to 17, and approximately half were on campus Christmas morning to receive a donated gift, said Sandi Rosenthal, director of volunteers at JCCA, the nonprofit organization that runs the school.
“They were amazing,” Ms. Rosenthal said of the gifts donated from Wampus. “All of the children who woke up here Christmas morning had gifts under the tree because of the Wampus ‘Gift of Giving.’”
The Wampus volunteers labeled the gifts, and staff members at the Pleasantville Cottage School chose a gift suitable for each resident.
“Because of the children at Wampus, our children had the joy of waking up Christmas morning and opening a present picked especially for them,” Ms. Rosenthal said.
“It makes them feel loved and cared for,” she said. “It tells them there are people out there who do care about them.”
The new leaders at Wampus Elementary School have created an important event for students and faculty: the community meeting.
Starting the first week of school, Principal Peggy McInerney and Assistant Principal David Mack began holding weekly meetings aimed at building a strong Wampus community, one that is a safe and trusting learning environment where students are always kind to one another.
“The meetings help foster a sense of community for our children,” Ms. McInerney says. “We slow everything down and bring the children together. They learn that they need to be there for one another and that as a community, we’re here to bring each other up.”
During the assemblies, Ms. McInerney may read a story or show video clips infused with a meaningful lesson, and present a conversation starter for teachers to continue in the classroom and for students to discuss at home.
The meetings are a great way for teachers, students and staff to get to know everyone in the building while bonding around a common purpose.
“The building stops for those 20 minutes and we are all together focusing on our community,” Ms. McInerney said. “A strong school community feels warm, welcoming, safe, calm, happy – that’s my goal.”
Every week, the leaders meet with a single grade on Thursday morning, and on the fourth week of the month, they hold a schoolwide assembly in the cafeteria on Friday afternoon. The meetings are always focused on “the high expectations for how we treat one another,” Ms. McInerney said.
The grade-level meetings will share a theme each month, and will be tailored to each set of students depending on the feedback Ms. McInerney and Mr. Mack have received regarding that grade.
In September Ms. McInerney read “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” a book about kindness. During the schoolwide meeting in early October, she read “We’re All Wonders” and showed two video clips from the hit movie “Wonder” that drew applause from the students.
The clips from “Wonder” were a treat for the students, Ms. McInerney told them, “because you have been so wonderful the last month. You keep getting better.”
Mr. Mack says the gatherings have been a good way for him to get to know the students and teachers while focusing on the importance of creating a kind school community.
“I’ve found that the community meetings have been a great opportunity to all come together and discuss real-life topics such as kindness, learning from our mistakes and how to contribute to the wonderful educational community at Wampus,” he said.
The meetings allow school leaders to praise excellent behavior, instilling confidence in students for their hard work and effort. The format provides opportunities for social and emotional learning.
“The community meetings are just one aspect of how we focus on educating the whole child, which includes social, emotional and academic growth,” Ms. McInerney says.
“These meetings are designed to foster interpersonal relationships that are grounded in safety, trust and responsiveness to one another,” she added. “They allow us to work together to understand the challenges we experience, and to develop problem-solving mechanisms. These meetings provide positive emotional expectations for everyone, and they help us see how our differences shape our culture.”
“Our goal is to ensure that our children leave Wampus with more confidence than when they entered, and gain a stronger sense of how important it is to be kind so that our community is a great place for everyone.”
Fourth grader Arun Das said he finds the meetings educational, and he appreciates that the principals are taking time to meet with the students.
“That’s really nice that they can do these schoolwide meetings, and I think that they should keep doing it because it kind of brings us more together,” Arun said. “I learn more about how to be better in school and what not to do and what more to do. Also, it feels good to get more compliments” like when “Ms. McInerney or Mr. Mack says good things about classes, grades or our school.”
Another fourth grader, Sofia Malinas, has been learning through the assemblies as well. “The meetings are helping me be a good learner and to follow the rules to make sure you’re safe, responsible and respectful,” she said.
As a grade-school student in the Byram Hills School District, Bonnie Gleicher delighted the crowds as she starred in “Peter Pan” and “The Wizard of Oz.” In the springtime, this distinguished 2006 graduate of Byram Hills High School returned with another special musical treat.
Ms. Gleicher, the composer and lyricist of the off-Broadway production “Addy & Uno,” brought the show to Wampus Elementary School in May. With five main characters who have adisability, the show bills itself as the first family musical about disability. Friendship and kindness also play starring roles.
The musical tells the story of Uno, a boy who has autism and loves math, and his four friends, who each have a different disability. Together, they support Uno all the way to the math competition, facing bullies along the way.
Ms. Gleicher, a 29-year-old singer-songwriter, said she instantly fell in love with the story and the characters after being recommended for “Addy & Uno.”
“These are characters that face so many obstacles every day and yet they face them with so much humor and fun and true friendship,” she said. “I was so inspired by them, so much that I wrote the first song the next day.”
She was thrilled to have the show on stage at Wampus, where it was enjoyed by third and fourth graders.
“They’ll learn about being kind to people and not bullying people and understanding what people are going through without even realizing it,” Ms. Gleicher said. “I’m so excited to help that next generation to get there.”
She is hopeful that it will inspire Wampus students.
“I hope they feel like when they see someone, that they’re more understanding of what they’re going through when someone is different from them, that they feel empowered to be friends with them, instead of fearful of them,” she said.
Judy Brewster, who directed Ms. Gleicher in school musicals and just retired as the Wampus assistant principal, remembers her as a talented performer. Ms. Gleicher was Peter in “Peter Pan” in third grade; she played Dorothy in her fourth-grade production of “The Wizard of Oz.”
“As a third grader, she was amazing,” Ms. Brewster said. “She had this huge voice. When she auditioned, the whole room became silent because her voice was a Broadway voice. I knew as soon as she opened her mouth in third grade that she’d be famous someday. That’s how talented she was, and still is.”
To help prepare Wampus students for the show, special education teacher Lindsey McHale designed a presentation for third and fourth graders about students with disabilities.
Mrs. McHale told administrators: “The anticipation of the show provided the perfect opportunity to talk with our students about differences and to answer their many questions.
I believe children are mostly accepting of differences once they are given the knowledge to
After the performance, Evan Latainer, the director of Westchester County’s Office for People with Disabilities, and Anna Masupost, CEO of the agency, presented Ms. Gleicher with a proclamation that recognized her commitment to musical theater and honored her as an outstanding citizen.
With thanks to the Byram Hills Parent Teacher Student Association, which funded this production.