Whether you're ready for it or not, the magic of the holiday season has already begun. It's impossible to miss as you walk through stores, many of which have been decorated since before Halloween, receive pre-Black Friday ads in the mail, and notice that Santa has already taken his spot in the Ocean County Mall.
Perhaps less obvious to all of us, somewhere else the holiday spirit is in full swing is in Ms. Casey Daniel's journalism classroom at High School East. The students, who start anticipating the Elf Letters Project in September, are busy crafting, writing, decorating, and putting personal touches on letters they will be sending to children through the mail as if from one of Santa's elves.
If you recall, last year, this same project made the local news after a substitute teacher "spilled the beans" about Santa Claus to a class of first graders in North Jersey. It sparked a lot of media attention and public outcry. In response, Ms. Daniel's class sent elf letters to the children as a way to possibly help offset the upsetting news.
Last year's media attention is how NBC caught wind of the project. Now, this year, the Elf Letters Project will be highlighted during NBC's coverage of the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting Ceremony on December 4th at 8 p.m. NBC Producer Stefani Gore and her intern Jack Lavitz visited High School East on Tuesday, November 19th to capture the students hard at work helping Santa and his elves.
"It was an incredible experience for my students and I couldn't do half of what I do with this project without their dedication, passion, and a little bit of magic from Santa and the elves," said Ms. Daniel. "Toms River truly has the best students around."
The Elf Letters Project was started over 30 years ago by Ms. Daniel's mother, then a teacher at High School North, and Casey has continued the tradition in her own journalism class at High School East for the past decade or more.
"I have continued the project because I became a mother myself, and I remember the magic of Christmas and my childhood letters," said Ms. Daniel. "I wanted to continue that tradition with my own children, and also continue to add magic and joy of the holiday season to others."
As far as the letters go, parents initiate the letter writing by filling out a form that asks for information about their child like something good they've done, something bad they've done, their Christmas wish list, activities they are involved in, if anything exciting is happening in their lives, and other information. After filling out the form, the parents mail it back to the journalism class and that's when the student elves begin crafting their hand-written, hand-decorated, personalized letter from one of Santa's elves to the child.
The letter writing activity is a way for the journalism students to practice their writing, editing, and grammar skills while helping to keep the spirit of Christmas alive, which is the main goal of the Elf Letters Project.
According to Daniel, the project is a tradition that she's happy to carry on because of her students' enthusiasm in becoming the "next generation" of elves.
Be sure to tune in to NBC on Dec. 4th! You won't want to miss the segment on this magical project!