Finding the Spirit of the Season: Kimball goes big for holiday celebration

Finding the Spirit of the Season: Kimball goes big for holiday celebration

By Tyler Dahlgren

It’s a new year at Kimball Public Schools, but the Longhorns didn’t turn the page on 2023 before holding a holiday celebration fit for the most festive of seasons.

The party started early on Wednesday, Dec. 20 at Mary Lynch Elementary, whose bustling gymnasium was filled with excited students seated  around dining tables by 9 a.m. for a family-style holiday breakfast. The celebration was a culmination of many things, namely the school’s inaugural and successful 12 Days of Expectations Challenge, which ran from Nov. 27 through Dec. 15 and tasked students with completing various good deeds, such as thanking lunchroom staff, walking quietly in the hallway and holding the door open for fellow students.

During those two weeks, students who were “caught in the act of good” received a positive office referral and were given jingle bells, candy canes and then photographed. Those Polaroids were used as ornaments to decorate a Christmas tree that stood front and center at the breakfast. Afterwards, the kids gleefully rushed to proudly pluck their ornaments from the tree. 

“I want to instill a family atmosphere here,” said principal Amanda Culek. “This is a place they should be able to come and enjoy. By doing activities like this, we’re including all of them, and we have to remember that not everybody is going to have this kind of atmosphere over the holidays. We want to give them something that they’ll remember.”

They didn’t miss the mark. An appearance from Lenny the Longhorn made sure of that. The school district’s adored mascot, donned without much ventilation by superintendent Trevor Anderson, entered the celebration mid-way and was greeted by about a hundred hugs and high-fives. He even “hit the griddy” a couple times, much to the students’ delight.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Anderson. “You see the student reaction, and how much they enjoy it. Having all of our elementary kids in one gym, celebrating all of their accomplishments over the course of a semester, this is what makes education fun.”

Anderson’s known to go the extra mile around this time of year. Last December, he dressed up as The Grinch, his “heart” growing with each student hug he received. The kids then presented him with a hand-crafted mural in the shape of a heart, one of the best gifts he can remember receiving.

“It’s all about the good vibes,” said Anderson, who joked that the costumes are getting hotter and stuffier every year. “If you send a kid out with a bad taste in their mouth, there’s a good chance they’ll come back for second semester and kind of have that ‘Why am I here?’ mentality. This sends them into the break on a positive note. You hope they have a couple of good weeks off, and we’ll be happy to welcome them back on January 4th, invigorated and ready to learn.”

The food was prepared by the lunch staff, a delicious lineup of all the holiday hits. Kimball Public Schools Board of Education members were on site to serve up cinnamon rolls, sausage links, scrambled eggs, fresh fruit and orange juice, which meant a lot to Culek and her staff, who were responsible for bringing the juice and fruit.

“Our school board is super positive and really wants to be involved,” she said. “They want to know what’s going on. We have a really strong relationship with the board. It’s really a team effort with everybody in the building playing a part. The kitchen staff really stepped up and did a majority of the cooking, which helped out so much.”

Board of Education Vice-President Jennifer Griebel was amazed by the energy in the building. She got a kick out of seeing the excitement on all of the kids’ faces, and believes these types of investments are invaluable ones to make.

“A good, strong community presence is so important,” Griebel said. “I have kids in elementary school, so it was fun to see all of their friends and their teachers. It was so fun to be a part of. We make an effort to tell them that we appreciate everything everyone does, and to say it often.”

Board of Education President Travis Cook said the celebration was the perfect way to cap a semester and kickstart the holidays, and he felt fortunate to be there.

“You have to have a good board to have a good school,” Cook said. “It feels good to be a part of something good.”

Though dreams of stuffed stockings and sleeping in danced around in their heads, the students were outwardly appreciative of a school staff that did their best to make it a special day.

“It was so much fun,” said sixth-grader Talon Chesley, who was most looking forward to spending time with family over break. “They’re rewarding us for our hard work, which feels good.”

Fellow sixth-grade student and the superintendent's son Ben Anderson’s holiday break docket included sledding, possibly some skiing, and a trip to Sioux City to celebrate his grandpa’s birthday and, of course, Christmas. 

“This was a really fun way to end the semester,” Ben said, before allowing himself to look ahead a little. “But I’m also excited for a 15-day break.”

There was a seating chart, which was designed to intermingle students who might not spend much time with each other during the course of a regular day. Culek said her daughter was initially disappointed that she wasn’t sitting next to any of her best friends. That’s the point, her mom explained. 

“I feel like we’ve really built a strong family community here,” Culek said. “We’re seeing that more and more every day with how the kids interact with each other.”

There’s three buses parked in front of the Goodhand Theatre just off downtown Kimball’s main street.

The long school buses, two of them clasically-yellow, aren’t out of place, necessarily, just an interesting sight. Inside the locally-owned, non-profit theater, junior/senior high school students are enjoying a mid-morning screening of Spirited, the 2022 Christmas comedy musical.

The elementary school doesn’t get to have ALL the fun (though they’ll make their way over to the theater later in the afternoon).

“I think it’s great that the school rewards us for a semester of working hard by taking us to the movies,” said senior Aspyn Kiefer, who’s involved in Student Council, NHS, the Superintendent’s Advisory Board and volleyball. “They honor us in a lot of ways throughout the year, which is very nice. They’re always cheering us on.”

After the movie, the students gathered in the gymnasium to participate in the “Stretch Across Nebraska” hula hoop challenge before moving into the cafeteria for a family-style lunch celebration that has become a holiday tradition at the school.

“It kind of creates a sense of community, celebrating the holidays with your classmates,” said senior Grace Anderson, Trevor's daughter who is on the volleyball, basketball and track and field teams and also participates in trap shooting, NHS, Student Council and FFA. 

Once again, the lunchroom staff’s food-turkey and mashed potatoes and vegetables-is delicious. The school has eight ranches (think Hogwarts houses in Harry Potter) which students spend the year in. Each ranch sits together and brings its own side items. There’s games and Christmas carols and all of the customary holiday cheer. And then some.

“We’ve really, over the last five to ten years, built a culture of family here,” said Jr/Sr High School principal Danielle Reader. “Everybody cares for each other. The ranches have helped, because we have these friendly rivalries between groups. It’s brought everyone together.”

That’s what the holiday season is all about, after all.