By RENEE WEBB
It has been five years since a Catholic schoolteacher from Emmetsburg Catholic started what has become a joy-filled tradition during Advent.
Amanda Schwarz, first grade teacher at Emmetsburg Catholic, pointed out a few years back she was looking on the internet for a “twist on the Elf on a Shelf concept” when she discovered an angel that came with ideas for family activities.
“I wanted to let the students see that Christmas isn’t about getting presents,” said Schwarz.
Given that Joy – a plush doll with angel wings – was such a hit with her students when she first started the project, the teacher has made it a yearly tradition.
Similar to the Elf on a Shelf, Schwarz said the angel, whose name is Joy (Jesus first, Others next, then Yourself), moves to various parts of the classroom during the Advent season.
“Joy comes each night and she writes a letter to the students; she sends them on a new kindness mission every single day,” explained the teacher, who noted that some projects are bigger and some are smaller. “And I try to make it educational as well.”
For instance, they have been instructed to give mug cakes to the teachers and staff at Emmetsburg Catholic. Students utilized other skills such as measuring to make the gifts. Another day, the students’ mission focused on giving smiles and genuine compliments.
“We passed out candy canes and nice messages to cars in the parking lot – we called it a candy cane bomb,” she said. “The kids wrote the messages, so it tied writing into it.”
Through the years, the scope of the kindness projects has grown. Some of the biggest missions for the last three years have included donating meal baskets to the local food pantry and creating care packages for the local sheriff, police and fire departments.
Excitement over having Joy in the classroom during Advent has not waned over the years.
“We love Joy because she gives us fun kindness missions to help others. She wants us to spread joy and show God’s love,” said Payton Bormann, a first-grader.
Timothy Schmidt, first-grader, added, “Joy is special. She shows us to be kind to everyone.”
By placing the focus on giving to others, the teacher said it helps the students learn the true meaning of Christmas.
“Joy has us give gifts to people to remind us that God gave us the gift of Jesus,” said Janey-Lynn Reedy, a first-grader.
The angel theme, Schwarz added, ties in nicely with other activities of the first graders as they played the part of angels during the school pageant.
“In her note the first day, Joy said she would be here to watch us perform as the angels in the play because angels had such an important role on the night that Jesus was born,” Schwarz said. The pageant was held Dec. 19.
Some of the kindness missions that Joy has given the students through the years include: donating coloring pages and crayons to the hospital waiting room, playing Bingo and made Christmas cards for residents at a care center, buying gifts for a person from the church’s Angel Tree, delivering cookies to local businesses in town, making bird feeders to feed the birds, doing extra chores at home, reading to preschoolers and more.
By doing these little acts of kindness, the teacher hopes her students can help make the world a better place.
“It helps them see that no matter what we do – big things or little things – it’s about giving back to others to help us remember that God gave us the greatest gift of all,” said Schwarz. “Joy’s message that she says at the end of every letter is: ‘Let’s spread some joy and show God’s love today.’”