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School Christmas memories
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For whatever reason, while I was doing yard work during the Thanksgiving weekend, I started thinking about my favorite Christmas memories from my own school days. (This probably qualifies as ancient history for most people.) The daydreaming made the raking and mulch-spreading a lot more pleasant.

The first grade had not been a rousing academic success for me when the time came to assign parts for the class Christmas play. For whatever reason, my teacher that year, Sister Calista, decided that being the narrator for the play was just what I needed. I remember practicing my lines each night at the kitchen table for my mom while she made dinner. (Mom  had been the Pennsylvania State Shakespearean Reading Champion in 1948, so she really pushed me on speaking distinctly and with dramatic expression.) On the day of the play I walked out on stage, looked at the audience and froze for a very long moment. Standing in the wings, Sister Calista fed me the beginning of my first line, and I regained my composure and started talking. Things went well, and from that point, my outlook on school and my school year turned around. To this day, when I speak in front of a group, I always think about Sister Calista. 

When I was in the eighth grade, our school athletic association decided to sell Christmas trees to raise money. Every student athlete was assigned times to man the tree lot. A friend of mine and I were assigned to a Sunday afternoon from 1 - 5 p.m. Just as we got there, it started to snow. Not unusual for my hometown of Pittsburgh in December. But the snow began falling harder and harder, and soon a veritable blizzard was taking place. Being the dutiful young men that we were, my friend and I soldiered on, although no one chose to brave the elements to buy one of our trees. A lady who saw us from her kitchen window brought us hot chocolate, a gesture for which I will be forever grateful. By the time our relief came at 5 p.m., the storm had passed, and we hadn’t sold one tree. My friend and I got a pretty hard time from everyone about that.

Although I couldn’t read a note of music, I decided to join the Glee Club in high school. (I remember my main motivation in doing so was to meet girls, although Glee Club in the late 1960s bore no resemblance to the one currently depicted on a popular television show.) The big concert for each year was at Christmas, a concert we started preparing for on the first day of school. Our director believed strongly in challenging us musically. The repertoire we sang included very complex arrangements of both sacred and secular music. Rehearsals were intense and draining. But even many years later, I can’t think of Christmas without remembering those concerts and the pride we all took in preparing for them. 

My last year in high school, I volunteered at a local community center, where high school students tutored and served as “big brothers” and “big sisters” for elementary students. One Saturday in early December, the program coordinator asked the volunteers to oversee the 30 or so kids as they decorated the center for the holidays with a Nativity scene, Christmas tree, wreaths and other decorations they had made. Such merry chaos as you’ve never seen!  Although I’m not quite sure how, everything turned out pretty well. Because one of my fellow volunteers was Jewish, he used the opportunity to explain Hanukkah to the children and helped them make menorahs out of construction paper. We all left at the end of that memorable day feeling unbelievably tired, but very satisfied with our efforts. I also remember wondering to myself whether teachers felt this wrung out at the end of the day.

One of the best parts of the holidays each year is remembering previous ones.

I’m always pleased to talk with community members about this topic or anything else concerning our schools. My direct dial phone number is 425-8916 and my e-mail is Citizens can also contact me through the “Ask the Super” link on the homepage of the district Website. I also invite folks to read my “blog” and listen to the podcast I record after each school board meeting with meeting highlights. Both of these, and a whole lot more, can be accessed at