A school in Montville, New Jersey received considerable media attention recently after a substitute teacher made an ill-advised statement regarding Santa Claus to her first-grade class. Amidst the negative frenzy, a long-running project at High School East has helped provide a fresh perspective and a renewed spirit of the season.
Casey Daniel, a journalism teacher at HSE, has been leading the Elf Letters Project-- which she inherited from her mom, who implemented it while a teacher at High School North-- for more than a decade. So, how does it work?
Ms. Daniel and her class write skillfully crafted, decorative, and personal letters to young children throughout the area. Written from Santa’s elves, the letters are postmarked from the North Pole and sent directly to children’s houses. The content of the letters, and knowing where to send them, are the result of a form parents complete that lets Ms. Daniel’s elv-- er, students-- know more about each child to whom they’re writing, including the names of siblings, something good the child did recently, something not so good, their Christmas wish list, and more.
“This is my favorite part of this class, and it brings back the memories and joy of my own childhood.” - Julia, High School East journalism student
The letters not only benefit those who receive them, but those who craft them as well. According to Ms. Daniel, students learn how to properly address an envelope, handwriting, editing, design, and other real-world journalistic skills. “Everyone brings something to the table,” she said.
In light of the situation in Montville, a mutual connection of Ms. Daniel and a parent of that school provided High School East the opportunity to reach out and inquire about writing letters to the first grade class. Over the next three weeks, letters will be sent out in batches to students at the school, in addition to those throughout Toms River Regional Schools.
It won’t be the first time the project has expanded beyond the district. Ms. Daniel’s students have sent letters as far as Hawaii and London.
The spirit of the project-- which has been a long-running tradition for many at HSE, and until now a well-kept secret elsewhere-- has captured the hearts and attention of many, including local media. Today, Vin Ebenau-- a HSE alumni, coincidentally-- of Townsquare Media and WOBM, visited the school to meet and interview Ms. Daniel and a handful of her students about the project.
Students talked excitedly about their experiences, stating how it’s “enhanced the true spirit of holidays” and “become a magical experience that I cherish.”
“This is my favorite part of this class,” said Julia, “and it brings back the memories and joy of my own childhood.”
The letters have become so popular that students who started receiving them years ago and who are now in their late teens or early adulthood still request to have them sent. In this way, said Daniel, “they’ve become keepsakes.”
Ebenau’s feature story and video are up and running on the WOBM website. Additional photos from the interview and project are below.