For the last seven years, Ánimo Leadership Charter High School’s Associated Student Body (ASB) and Advisory courses have collaborated with a nearby elementary school to brighten the holiday season of local families in need. While this holiday tradition demonstrates the goodwill of the Ánimo Leadership learning community, it’s also illustrative of their tenacity that has kept the program afloat through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Catherine Stine, Ánimo Leadership’s English teacher and ASB advisor, helps lead the Giving Tree holiday drive at Ánimo Leadership. Traditionally, in the fall semester, the counselor at the nearby Moffett Elementary School sends a list of families in need who have children that attend the elementary school. “And every Ánimo Leadership advisory is responsible for one family member who makes a wish list,” Stine said. “That list has the person’s size, their favorite color, what they like to read, and their hobbies.”
For the first five years, operating the holiday drive was simple: Collect a list. Discover the interests of the families. And share a moment of joy with the families on the day of the Giving Tree event. But that all changed in the sixth year, when school districts across the nation shifted to distance learning to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in 2020.
Ánimo Leadership’s school building was closed throughout 2020. However, Stine said, the hearts and minds of the students remained open.
“I felt that we needed to do it because if there's any year that people would need it, it would have been in 2020,” Stine added. “That year in Advisory, we adopted two families and tackled the gifts by grade level. Students had their Amazon packages sent to the school and dropped off other gifts.” Stine, with the help of her colleagues Sarah Ducker, Danielle Oh, and Raymundo Rosa, built a drive-thru Giving Tree experience at Ánimo Leadership by hanging decorations in a section of the school. “We were able to send our families home with a hot meal and bags of presents.”
This December, Stine is looking forward to working with her Ánimo Leadership students to resume an in-person Giving Tree event on the campus. Ánimo Leadership’s 26 Advisories are supporting five families, a total of 26 people.
While she is thrilled to host the event in-person, she has often reflected on how her students have never lost sight of their community mission. “I always tell ASB that being a difference maker is like a pebble and a lake,” Stine said. “Our world can be a serene lake, right? But when you throw a pebble in it, it creates ripples. I truly believe that in working together they are the ripple makers at our school.”
Ánimo Leadership principal Catherine Perez admires her students for the example they set for one another and is “incredibly proud of our Animo Leadership students for not only having such strong academic achievements, but for also being conscientious and considerate citizens. Year after year, our students go above and beyond to spread joy and love to members of our local Lennox community,” she said. “The Giving Tree tradition is part of the rich fabric that makes our school so special.”
Through leadership opportunities like ASB and the consistency of courses such as Advisory, our schools are able to build spaces for compassion, experimentation, and discussion that can help students learn how they can make a difference in their communities and beyond.