OGDEN — Forty-four Mount Ogden Junior High School students’ Christmas is much brighter this year thanks to their fellow classmates.

Students spent the last three weeks raising funds so that some of the less fortunate at their school could have Christmas for themselves and their families. Students raised $12,000, an impressive number considering over 60 percent of students at the school qualify for free or reduced lunch.

The bonus? Students got to spend Friday watching teachers, administrators and student leaders do wild and crazy antics.

This is the 10th year for the Change for Children Christmas fundraiser at the school. Teacher and instructional coach Betsy Galbraith started the program to help students learn to give of themselves. The first year students helped preschool kids, but by the next year Galbraith could see the students could do something that would be bigger and better to help their own students. Since then, students at the school have spent December in an intra-school competition between grades to not only see which grade can raise the most cash, but see what teachers will do if certain price benchmarks are reached. The big benchmark was $10,000, which caused vice principal Bryan Becherini to spend the night on the school’s roof and document each hour on video camera.

For Galbraith, the whole month is great at the school, but the icing on the cake is shopping with the students who are the recipients. Faculty and staff spent Wednesday afternoon shopping at Target with the students. Students are allocated a portion for themselves and then also spend money on family members. Galbraith set it up that way because students usually just want to spend money on family members, so Galbraith makes it so they also spend a little on themselves.

This is the first year Jennifer DeCorso, who is on the school support team, has shopped with the students.

“I have never seen kids so excited,” DeCorso said. “It just made my Christmas. I will never miss it again.”

She helped two students shop and on the car ride to Target the students talked about their family situations and what the shopping trip meant to them.

“It started out with them picking out small things like binders and pencils and then I told them we needed to step it up,” she said with a laugh. “We started throwing jeans and all sorts of things in the cart.”

For Galbraith, the shopping also was the best part. “The checkers at Target were moved to tears as we went through the line,” Galbraith said.

Galbraith joked that eating a cricket was also a highlight for her. That was what students chose as a benchmark for several teachers. Student body president Heather Goff said watching the teachers eat the crickets was the best part of the assembly.

“It was great. Everyone in the audience loved it,” Goff said.

The audience yelled and screamed as the teachers downed the bugs. One teacher played it up by chewing the cricket with vigor.

But Goff also knows the real importance of the activity.

“It just means so much more that we are able to give money to students that we are in the halls with, that need so much,” Goff said.

Ogden High School senior Bret Alexander knows firsthand the affect of the help. His family was helped in his eighth and ninth grade years with the fundraiser. He wrote a letter for Galbraith to give to donors so they could hear the impact it had on him.

“At that time we (his family) were going through a lot ... so when they offered it to me it sounded so great,” Alexander said.

For him, one of the biggest pluses was to spend time shopping with a teacher who he had admired, but didn’t realize they knew him.

“I found out that people really cared about me that I didn’t even think knew I existed. They knew me and wanted to help me,” he said.

He loved being able to freely buy for his family.

Galbraith said the effort is part of the whole community. Not only do students search their homes for change, parents and community donors step up to bring the drive over the top. Students in the publications class hit the pavement going door to door to businesses.

“Our donors make such a huge difference,” she said.

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