The sixth annual holiday celebration at Union High School saw 205 first-grade students from Burton Elementary, Harrison Park Academy, Sibley Elementary, and Stocking Elementary come to what might be their future school for a morning of crafts, treats, gifts (including a future Union Redhawk T-shirt!) and holiday songs.

For Union principal Aaron Roussey, the yearly event is “a ton of work and a ton of fun.”

“Every year we kind of wonder if it’s worth it,” he said with a chuckle. “And then when it’s done, and we’ve had all those first-graders over here, we say ‘yeah, it was definitely worth it.’”

Roussey credits Dana Bachelder, Tracy Benjamin and Jessica Maat from the Union staff for doing most of the heavy lifting on organizing the event with a healthy dose of help from the Union student body.

He noted that the logistics are complex as each first-grade student gets accompanied along the way for the day by a Union student, dubbed their elf or Santa’s helper. Most of the helpers are ninth-grade students at Union with a smattering of other students from each grade’s standing leadership team and from Union’s award-winning JROTC chapter.

The young students and their helpers moved from station to station, and then the whole group finished in the gym where Union’s choir, orchestra and band led everyone in such holiday standards as Jingle Bells.

“I had a smile on my face the whole day,” Roussey said. “The goal on our end is to introduce these young students to Union and get them thinking ‘hey, I want to go to school here someday.’ And for our current students, the goal is to put them in a position of leadership. Our students helped organize and run the whole thing.”

Roussey also gave a shout-out to GRPS Superintendent Leadriane Roby who was among several special guests at the event.

“Having her come is always huge for our scholars and our staff,” he said.

And he thanked Walter Durkee American Legion Post 311 which donated $2,000 for gifts for the children and other expenses.

“This was the first year we partnered with them,” he said. “It was great to have them involved. We’re very thankful.”