By Sarrah Peters, News Editor
On Thursday, December 14, a unique Christmas party was held at Gadsden Convention Hall. Special education students from Gadsden City Schools, Attalla City Schools and Etowah County Schools attended the 66th Annual Christmas Party for Exceptional Children.
The Christmas party was originally scheduled to be held Friday, December 8, but could not be held when snowstorms hit the area and caused school closings. However, the party’s planning committee did not want to disappoint the students who would attend the event, so the party was rescheduled.
The Christmas party got its start with a group of United Steel Workers of America AFL-CIO Local No. 12. coworkers who wanted to do something for an employee’s child who had special needs. This act of kindness grew into an annual event for special needs throughout the county, which Local No. 12 still funds 66 years later.
The party hosted about 250 students with severe cognitive disabilities in preschool through 12th grade from Gadsden City Schools, Attalla City Schools and Etowah County Schools. At the party students danced, sang and played.
Bands, drumlines, choral groups and dance groups from various schools came to entertain the students. Among the entertainment at this year’s party were the Sardis Middle School Choir and the Gadsden Middle School Dazzlers Dance Line. Frosty, Rudolph the Reindeer, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Princess Elsa from Frozen, an elf, school mascots and more danced and played with the students.
After about an hour of partying, the students settled down to lunch. Local No. 12 provided drinks, chips and fruit. Each school provided its students with sandwiches.
Before the students left the Christmas party they each received a present from Santa Claus himself. Each student’s present was specifically for them, because their teachers turned in a list of gifts the child had asked for.
Though funded by the Local No. 12, The Learning Center or the Etowah County Board of Education’s Special Education Department plans the party. The planning starts in August, as soon as school starts. Before the party, the department decorates Gadsden Convention Hall with Christmas trees, lights and other festive decorations provided by Local No. 12. With funds provided by Local No. 12, The Learning Center employees buy the Christmas presents and separate the gifts by classes. The department coordinates with the schools to provide volunteers for the event and arrange transportation to Gadsden Convention Hall.
“It’s a process,” said Etowah County Special Education Director Allison Stevens. “I’ve only been in this office for two years, but the people in my office have been doing this for 20 years, so they’ve got it down to a science.”
Stevens wanted to thank the Local No. 12 for making the Christmas Party possible.
“This wouldn’t happen without them,” said Stevens.
Stevens said that the students really enjoy themselves at the Christmas Party.
“I taught a self-contained class before I got this job and it was my favorite day of the year because the students love it,” said Stevens. “They get excited and they know that it is all about them. Once they’ve been, they look forward to it every year. They have a great time.”