OGDEN -- It was organized chaos Friday morning at Dee Elementary, as students sifted through thousands of gently used books scattered throughout the commons area and then carefully placed them in their grocery sacks.
Christmas music blared over the loudspeaker as junior high students helped the younger children pick books. Some couldn't resist the urge to sit down in the middle of the room and start reading their new-found treasures.
This book-giving tradition puts smiles on everyone's faces every year, as students from Wahlquist Junior High come with boxes of books and gifts for the children they tutor each week. The students are also treated to the Wahlquist choir and to a performance by "Class Act", a junior high-aged performing group with members from the Ogden area.
Students from the Spanish Club have participated in the project for 30 years. They start collecting books and gently used toys, blankets, gloves and coats in November, said Spanish teacher Don Morse. He and fellow teacher Trent Porter took over the project from Gary Turner when he retired a year-and-a-half ago. Turner was still on hand at the Dee event because, he said, he wouldn't miss the day of giving for the world.
When the Spanish club started the project in 1979, members donated items to a school nurse that home deliveries to home-bound students.
When Turner started talking with the nurse they realized that most of the donations were going to Dee students, so they started to visit the school. Once that Christmas project started, Turner found that the Dee students could use help with reading and other skills throughout the whole year, so the weekly tutoring program was born.
Morse said his students work to become a tutor for the elementary kids. In 7th grade they are allowed to participate in the service project, and by 8th and 9th grade they are ready and excited to be tutors.
The tutors were the ones passing out the books Friday. They eagerly found their students and helped them pick out books.
Dee Principal Sondra Jolovich-Motes said the event gives her students an extra chance to see the benefits of staying in school. "They see all these things these junior high students are doing and they know they can do that, too," Jolovich-Motes said.
As Jolovich-Motes was thanking the junior high kids for their service, she pointed out that fact to her students. "All these kids and performers could be here because they do great in their learning. You can do that," she said.
Emma Gallegos sees that. The 10-year-old happily found animal books, which are her favorite, and talked about her goals. "It is so fun. I loved the dancing because they do really cool things and I can do that," she said with a huge smile.
"These older students inspire the younger students," Jolovich-Motes said.
But Turner said it is the other way around. He has seen his students decide to be teachers because of their tutoring time at Dee. He has also seen them completely change their attitude about less-fortunate children.
"I have seen the changes every day," he said. "These little kids are special. They appreciate everything you do for them."
"Our students get to learn to serve and everyone wins," Porter said.