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'The Polar Express' stops at Commack Road Elementary

Wearing her pajamas and snowman antlers, 8-year-old Madelynn

Wearing her pajamas and snowman antlers, 8-year-old Madelynn Lang, of Islip, eagerly participates in the annual holiday celebration at Commack Road Elementary School. (Dec. 21, 2012) Credit: Amber Qalagari

Dressed in Monster High pajamas with her favorite stuffed animal, 8-year-old Madison Thorpe enjoyed the best day of second grade so far: Pajama Day.

She was among the more than 50 second-graders at Islip’s Commack Road Elementary School who eagerly gathered in the hallway Friday to listen to Chris Van Allsburg’s “The Polar Express.”

For more than a decade, the last day of class before winter break has been dedicated to celebrating the upcoming holiday. Students enjoy a “Polar Express” themed day that includes listening to the story, wearing pajamas and eating holiday treats.

“We got to listen to the story, watch the movie and eat cookies,” Madison said. “It was the best day.”

Students also wore bells that they rang during the reading of the story.

“My favorite part was when we all rang the bell,” said 8-year-old Shawn Ryan. “It was awesome!”

Donning flannel penguin pajamas, Elizabeth Johnson was one of five teachers who took part in the day’s festivities, giving a whole new take on casual Friday.

“All of the second-grade teachers came up with this idea over 10 years ago because we felt it was important to celebrate our real gifts of Christmas -- the children,” said Johnson, who has taught second grade at the school for 25 years.

This year, to extend the tradition throughout the entire school, the students made a green-and-red paper train that lined the hallway walls. Students wrote their wishes on notebook paper and placed them on their homemade version of “The Polar Express.”

One wish from a student read, “If I had one wish it would to be a teacher because I want to teach everybody.”

“Seeing these wishes really connects the real holiday spirit for students,” said Johnson.

Principal Jeannette Feminella said the holidays are an especially important time to connect with students. She visited each classroom to celebrate the end of the year with the students.

“Isn’t it great to have a principal that actually knows the names of all her students?” Feminella asked. “Isn’t that how all schools are supposed to be?”

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