Dazzled by ‘Garden of Lights’

Published 3:57 pm Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Families came to Booker T. Washington Elementary School Thursday evening to enjoy the shiny, festive handiwork by the students and faculty.

The fifth annual “Garden of Lights” transformed the school’s community garden into a wondrous display of at least 10,000 Christmas lights, according to Title I reading specialist Jenny Owens, a member of the family engagement committee, and a co-organizer for the event with Christy Whitener.

Each grade level took a portion of the garden to decorate in a friendly competition for best display. The theme this year was “Wacky Tacky,” and students and faculty added to the Christmas lights with blow-up lawn decorations and whatever else they thought would be eye-catching, Owens said.

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“It’s for an hour and a half, so we really wanted it to pop for an hour and a half,” Owens said.

It’s about two weeks’ worth of hard work by staff and students to bring out their best work for this hour-and-a-half event. About 300 to 400 attendees were expected to be dazzled by the festivities on the chilly Thursday night.

Parents Jon and Rachel Adams enjoyed the lit-up garden with their 1-year-old son Henry, their John F. Kennedy Middle School eighth-grader, Abigail, and their Booker T. Washington Elementary fourth-grader Madelynn, 9.

They enjoyed the fourth grade’s garden section of lights and decorations, including Madelynn’s favorite: a blow-up Olaf lawn decoration from the movie “Frozen.”

“I think it’s really neat that they put this together, and that each age group has their own section,” Rachel Adams said.

“It looks really well put on,” Jon Adams added. “They definitely put a lot of effort into this.”

The holiday displays were judged by Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. John Gordon III, Board Chairwoman Phyllis Byrum and Karl Wilkins, pastor at The Mount Suffolk.

According to co-organizer Owens, the Title I reading specialists won first place for their decorations. Fifth and third grades tied for second place, and third place went to the first grade. All of the winners will receive a free lunch after Christmas break, which will be provided by Booker T. Washington Elementary School Principal Chanel Woods.

Pastor Wilkins said he truly felt how much Christmas spirit the students and faculty had plugged into the garden.

“It was just amazing that the teachers and staff came together to do this. It was a neat experience,” Wilkins said.

Dr. Gordon was impressed by how engaged and active the students were for this creative competition, along with the school’s academic coaches and various other faculty members.

“If that competition helps to bring a little more joy to our kids, we’re all for it,” he said.

It’s an event that’s grown each year, and Byrum said this was the best one yet.

“I’ve been every year that they’ve had it,” Byrum said. “This is the best year they’ve ever had, and like (Dr. Gordon) said with the participation from all the different groups — that’s what we want to see.

“(Principal Woods) is doing a great job. The faculty here, they work as a team, and it’s showing up in everything they do, from test scores to Garden of Lights. We’re very proud of them.”

Children were also offered the “gift of reading” with a free book given to each child at the school Thursday evening. The kids also did art projects with the Suffolk Art League, enjoyed story time in the library, made beautiful buttons with the Suffolk Public Library and took pictures with Mr. and Mrs. Claus.

Woods said she was proud of all the work that her faculty once again put into the annual holiday extravaganza.

“I’m very proud of the work that they put in, as they made this a great event for our families as we head towards winter break,” Woods said.