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Lancer Secret Santa Provides Gifts for 150 Students and Families

Scott Girard | The Cap Times

A program in its fourth year at La Follette High School is helping students and their families make the holiday season more special.

The Lancer Secret Santa program connects students whose families might not otherwise afford presents with members of the Lancer community willing to sponsor those in need.

“For some families, it means that they're actually going to have something to open under the tree on Christmas morning,” La Follette social worker Kyle Bollman said. “A lot of families don't have the means to have a Christmas like that.”

Bollman and colleague Michelle Olson coordinate the program at the school, while the La Follette booster club helps find sponsors for the students. Bollman and Olson connect with the student services team and reach out to staff to identify students who would benefit from the program — starting with students experiencing homelessness “and then we just kind of go from there” to complete the list.

This year, the program is going to provide gifts for 152 students and siblings, nearly doubling what it provided last year, booster club secretary Sara Gold said. In 2020-21, 60.2% of La Follette’s students were considered “economically disadvantaged,” according to the state Department of Public Instruction, which put it second among the district’s comprehensive high schools, slightly behind East at 61.9%.

“This is just one part of a larger picture of what makes La Follette great and amazing and also the challenges that La Follette faces,” Gold said.

Before providing the list of students and siblings to the booster club, the student services team assigns a number and replaces their name on a spreadsheet to protect students’ privacy. Each student or parent involved identifies some of their wants and needs, along with those of their siblings.

Bollman said “it’s beautiful” to watch the students take on another role as they come up with gift ideas for their younger siblings.

“Kids are really into wanting to include their younger brother or sister, they have fun with trying to come up with gift ideas and it just brings another side out of the older kids,” he said.

Those that sign up for the program answer a question of both what they and their siblings want but also what they need. Things like socks, underwear, diapers and money for gas are often among the responses, Bollman said.

“It’s more than just presents, it’s helping on just a basic needs level,” he said.

Bollman credited the booster club for its generosity with the program, as people “really show (up) for the kids,” with hundreds of dollars in gift cards or nice pairs of new shoes — not just $10 or $20 gift cards.

“They really shop for these kids like they’re their own kids,” he said.

Gold said it’s an important way to remind students that the school community is somewhere they belong, especially given high levels of turnover in the school’s leadership in recent years, with three principals within the past four years alone.

“That’s tough to keep continuity when you have so much staff turnover, and yet we still want to provide students with something to sort of keep them coming back,” Gold said. “Show that they’re appreciated in their school community and that they feel like they belong.”

Bollman said he appreciates his colleagues and school leadership who all help make the program of “pure joy” possible at a time before winter break when “there’s a lot going on in the building.” And he’s often the one who sees that joy on the faces of kids and parents when they pick up their gifts.

“To see the kids’ reaction, I mean to get to kind of play Santa as they come in — it's my favorite program of the year,” Bollman said. “It's just absolutely joyful.”

This article was originally published by The Cap Times on December 12, 2021. To view the full story on their website, please click here.

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