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Growing through giving: Kindergartners throw birthday giving parties

SALISBURY — Every three months in the kindergarten building at Salisbury Academy, song, dance, and treats are shared in honor of the students who have birthdays that quarter. It’s a delightful time that students eagerly anticipate and plan for, and these are no ordinary birthday parties. These parties are giving parties, where students celebrate the joy of sharing with those in need.

“These parties came about years ago, when we were searching for a community service project that the Pre-K and K students could understand and make their own,” Sandy Jordan, junior kindergarten teacher for Salisbury Academy, said.

At the time, the junior kindergarten and kindergarten classes convened to celebrate student birthdays each quarter, with students bringing in a small gift – something costing less than 50 cents – for each of the birthday students, Jordan says.

It was evident, though, that the parties were not about the gifts themselves, but the opening of the gifts.

“So we thought, why not wrap up gifts to be given to those in need?” Jordan said.

And thus the giving party was born. Every quarter, Salisbury Academy chooses a different organization to support, and students bring in wrapped items specific to the organization’s needs. Past causes and organizations supported include: Rowan Helping Ministries, soldiers in Afghanistan, shelter animals, the Pregnancy Support Center, the Terrie Hess House, and school families with special needs.

“It’s a joyous time in our kindergarten and junior kindergarten and brings with it deep lessons in generosity, caring, and community stewardship,” Salisbury Academy Head of School Beverly Fowler said.

At this month’s giving party, gifts were collected for Footprints in the Community, an organization committed to the community inclusion of children with special needs. Salisbury Academy students brought in a splashy array of craft items — everything from pompons to paints to pipe cleaners — for the Footprints children. For their giving party activity, students made colored “sand” for Footprints children with food coloring and salt.

Footprints in the Community Founder Dr. Ashley Deaton spoke with the students about her organization and even brought a Footprints child participant with her. Through their interactions, the academy’s kindergarten students learned first-hand of how children with special needs are not so unlike themselves.

“The incredible display of generosity by the children at Salisbury Academy is overwhelming,” Deaton said. “I love the way the giving parties are structured so that children can benefit from seeing and hearing about the people and organizations that their gifts will help.”

While the missions of some of the organizations featured in the giving parties may not be fully understood by the young students, there are meaningful connections made at every party.

“Our young students know that they do not want anyone to be hungry, homeless or unsafe,” Jordan said. “These are tangible things that they can relate to.”

In addition to making these critical connections possible, the giving parties allow the seed of compassion to be planted at an early age, Jordan said. And at Salisbury Academy, this is a seed that will be nurtured as students progress through the eighth grade, as a key part of the academy’s mission.

“You are fostering giving hearts at Salisbury Academy, and it is beautiful to witness,” Deaton said.

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