WJCC students provide for one another over holiday break

Leading up to winter break, several Williamsburg-James City County schools are energizing their students with a do-good holiday spirit.

D. J. Montague's 12 Days of Giving started Dec. 1. Each day through the 16th students are asked to bring a specific type of item to donate.

On Dec. 1 it was hats and mittens. Dec. 2 was sock day, and this week began five days of collecting food and hygiene products.

D. J. Montague's principal, Cathy Vazquez, says the school has organized a food drive for years around this time, but this year is its first try at 12 Days of Giving, identifying specific products each day.

"The kids bring something in that we designated are needed, so we get a good cross section," Vazquez said. "It helps because it's really a very inclusive list of things that (families) are going to need."

Everything that is collected will be redistributed to needy families at the school and Vazquez said the donations will be split among roughly 25 families and any leftovers will go to the Erase the Need Center, a WJCC organization that supports needy students and their families.

This week students will collect non-perishable breakfast foods, fruits, vegetables, protein items and toiletries. Next week the days target household items, condiments, baking materials, snacks and soup.

Over at Toano Middle School, students are focusing on an intellectual need: collecting and donating books that will be distributed to students in need.

The middle school students are creating a book tree. Starting from the bottom, they are stacking donated books, big and small, one on top of another to form a shape of a tree. In its fourth year, the Toano book drive aims to collect more than 1,000 before the drive ends Dec. 14.

"It makes a really pretty tree and it meets the needs of our students and the organizations we give (the books) to," Toano's principal Tracey Jones said.

She said they accept book donations for any age level because the students these go to are not only picking out books for themselves, but for everyone in their family. They will get a backpack, also donated to the school, which they get to fill up as they please from the book tree.

"These are books that students loved at one time and are just sitting on a shelf at home," said Terri Seward, Toano's library media specialist who runs the book drive. "It's a way to give new life to these books. These are stories kids loved and they can pass on."

Any books left over are given to Norge and Stonehouse elementary schools for the same purpose, as well as the Erase the Need Center. Jones added that members of the community are welcome to donate as well, and may drop books off at Toano's main office.

Warhill High School students organized a toy drive to benefit the Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters that runs until Dec. 15. The wrestling team at Warhill is also running a toy drive with donations going to Colonial CASA, a local advocacy group for abused or neglected students. You can drop off toys at the school.

Advocacy group to hold forum

The Village, a newly formed education-advocacy group in Williamsburg, is holding a community forum Saturday featuring a panel of local education experts and representatives.

The forum will primarily feature a panel responding to audience-submitted questions, but there are some topics that they will be sure to discuss, said The Village's founder and president Jackie Bridgeforth-Williams.

Those topics include the achievement gap and teacher diversity within the division, both are topics the group discusses at its weekly meetings and brings up during the public comment section of most School Board meetings.

Bridgeforth-Williams said she's wanted to do this kind of forum since establishing the group a few months ago. She said the forum highlights the group's mission, which is to bring the community together and address issues such as the achievement gap and school-to-prison pipeline.

"We want to come together for the youth," Bridgeforth-Williams said. "We hope to bring folks in and give them great info.... Hopefully the panel will address everyone's needs."

The panel features representatives from Old Dominion University, current and former members of the Williamsburg-James City County School Board, two co-founders of the nonprofit Real People Educating Others, a Williamsburg Police Department Student Resource Officer, a pastor and two members of The Village, including Bridgeforth-Williams.

The forum will start at 4 p.m. Saturday at Bruton Heights, 301 1st Street in Williamsburg.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

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