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Walled Lake students play Santa for Detroit charter

Families fulfilled wish lists and the gifts were delivered Thursday to some very happy kids

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Detroit — Students from Walled Lake Northern High School’s leadership class played early Santa to about 600 students at a Detroit charter school Thursday.

In the freezing cold, 24 students representing the Walled Lake school formed an assembly line outside a UPS truck at the K-8 Lincoln-King Academy on the city’s west side. They paused long enough to pose with 24 students representing the charter school as ambassadors, before filling the auditorium to the rafters with the gifts.

The UPS truck was donated by Mark Freese, operations excellence manager, whose daughter attends the Detroit school.

“It’s all about helping out the community we serve,” he said.

Megan Pearl, on the brink of tears, tried to put into words how it made her feel to play Santa.

“This is so awesome,” said the 17-year-old senior at Walled Lake Northern and a member of the leadership class, which is part of the student council. “I really feel like I have the holiday spirit. It’s hard to even put it into words to describe how it feels to see kids open gifts like this.”

It’s the second year the school has helped students at a Detroit school. Last year, Megan said her classmates played Santa to about 330 students at the Detroit Leadership Academy, another charter school.

“We wanted to go bigger this year,” she said.

Megan approached Lincoln-King Academy with the idea in October and reached out to students, teachers and the community surrounding the Walled Lake school, asking everyone to adopt a family.

Each student was asked two questions: What do you want and what do you need?

“Each student had a limit of about $30-$40 to spend per child,” Megan said. “Some people adopted more than one student. One student at our school adopted 21 students!”

Ernestine Sanders, education manager for the Detroit school, said she hopes it will be the beginning of an ongoing relationship.

“A gift is only a one time thing, but a relationship is forever,” she said. “This is so exciting to be able to see all of this.”

Walled Lake student Mikayla Ryder, 16, a junior, spearheaded the project with Megan.

“It warms my heart to let them have a better holiday from us just being here,” she said. “I know I’m going to break down in tears, and all the stress has been well worth it.”

The Walled Lake students scurried throughout the school with packages, going into each classroom and placing them on desks while the Detroit students were at lunch. Teachers at the school snapped pictures with their cellphones.

Teacher Monique Jefferson, who teaches English language arts, sat in her empty classroom filled with brightly wrapped gifts on each desk — and a completely wrapped mountain bike with helmet — waiting for students to return from lunch.

The lesson Jefferson has been teaching is quite timely: gratitude.

“It warms my heart to see people giving this way, and my students are seeing it and can emulate it,” she said. “We have been talking about gratitude and I know the students will be so excited and appreciative.”

Moments later, students filed into their classroom and erupted into cheers and laughter. Wrapping paper was ripped to ooohs and ahhhs. Boys played with basketballs, skateboards and Tero Law could barely contain his joy.

“I got a bike,” he kept repeating. Ripping off the red wrapping paper, he sat on the bike and could not stop smiling.

“I asked for it but I didn’t know if I’d really get it,” he said.

Asked how he would be able to ride in the cold and snow, he replied, “Like this,” roughly handling the bike as though it were riding through snow.

But he couldn’t wait.

He rode his bike into the hallway and down the hall, smiling all the way.

slewis@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2296