In Pictures: Freeman Elementary's Christmas Literacy Celebration

FLINT, Michigan — Children in their pajamas, the smell of warm hot chocolate, the sounds of sleigh bells, and laughter filled the classrooms and hallways of Freeman Elementary on the last day before winter break.

On Friday, Dec. 6, Freeman Elementary celebrated literacy and reading comprehension by participating in craft-making activities, eating Christmas cookies, and watching the movie The Polar Express. Each student was gifted new books throughout the day through the support of a multi-million-dollar literacy-centered state grant. 

In 2021, former Flint Schools Superintendent Anita Steward announced that the district would be the recipient of a Michigan Department of Education grant for $3 million to help develop literacy skills for Flint scholars. The grant will be spread out over a five-year period.

Last year, the literacy team at Freeman Elementary used funds to welcome Michigan novelist Johnathan Rand, author of the thriller series Michigan Chillers and American Chillers. Rand was a guest speaker and spoke with the students. The students were also provided with free books and a book fair. 

Sixth-grade Freeman scholars play a round of musical chairs during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside) Sixth-grade teacher Kissandra Gaatz, a member of the literacy team, voted to use this year's funds at Freeman for a more interactive literacy-themed event. 

“This is our second activity we chose to spend the grant on,” said Gaatz. “We chose Chris Van Allsberg, another Michigan author and University of Michigan graduate. Every student is getting a copy of his book 'The Polar Express' and students are also receiving copies of other books he wrote as well. Our literacy team decided that for today, we had to do it just like ‘The Polar Express’ — hot cocoa and jammies, tickets, and a bell to remember to always believe.” 

Sixth-grade teacher Mrs. Gaatz leads a game of musical chairs during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside) Each teacher chose to celebrate the event in a fun and unique way. Hayley Burnett, a student teacher from the University of Michigan-Flint partnered with the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department to bring her kindergarten class a surprise. 

The night before, she reached out to her professor to find a Santa suit. Once she found the perfect Santa outfit, she messaged her friend, Genesee County Sheriff Deputy Blanding, and asked if he could be Santa for her kindergarten class. Deputy Blanding obtained support and clearance from his Captain at the GCSD.

Deputy Blanding couldn’t take a single step in the hallways of Freeman without being ambushed by smiling children asking Santa for a hug. 

‘What is Given from the Heart,” sits on a shelf in Mrs. Gaatz sixth grade classroom during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside) Paishann Curtis, Freeman Elementary third grade teacher, commented on her love for the infectious kindness that is spread amongst children during the holiday season. In each student's copy of Polar Express, she wrote their name, followed by the word ‘believe.’ 

“Hopefully the book gift spurs them to go home and read it to their brothers and sisters, their moms and dads, and just enjoy it together,” said Curtis. 

Scroll below to see more photos:

A third-grade Freeman scholar enjoys sugar cookies and hot chocolate while watching The Polar Express during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside)
A third-grade Freeman scholar watches The Polar Express during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside)
A third-grade Freeman scholar watches The Polar Express during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside) First-grade teacher, Mrs. Sandra Baird shows the items inside each student’s Christmas gift during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside) First Grade teacher Mrs. Sandra Baird shows a new copy of the Polar Express inside of each student's Christmas gift bag during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside) First-grade Freeman scholars listen closely for their names to be called for their Christmas gift bag during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside) First-grade Freeman scholars smile and laugh as they listen for their names to be called for their Christmas gift bags during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside First-grade teacher Mrs. Sandra Baird delivers a Christmas gift bag to one of her students during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside) First-grade teacher Mrs. Sandra Baird delivers a Christmas gift bag to one of her students during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside) First-grade teacher Mrs. Sandra Baird delivers a Christmas gift bag to one of her students during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside) A first-grade Freeman scholar works on a coloring project in class during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside) Bells, cupcakes, hot chocolate, and a new copy of The Polar Express sit on display in Mrs. Gaatz sixth-grade classroom during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside) Third-grade teacher Mrs. Curtis helps students decorate Christmas cookies during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside) Third-grade teacher Mrs. Curtis helps students pick out first for Christmas cookies during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside) Third-grade Freeman scholars hold their golden ticket for The Polar Express during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside)
A Freeman scholar holds a brand new gifted stuffed polar bear during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside) Freeman principle Mrs. Turner and a fellow staff member deliver new stuffed animals during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside) A first-grade Freeman scholar is handed a new stuffed animal from a staff member during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside) Genesee County Sheriff Deputy Blanding dressed as Santa Clause is hugged and welcomed by students during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside) Genesee County Sheriff Deputy Blanding is hugged by kindergarten students during Freeman Elementary’s holiday celebration of literacy and reading comprehension on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside)

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