NAMPA — The intercom at Endeavor Elementary crackled to life just before 6 p.m. last Wednesday, static smoothing into a classic “Home for the Holidays” by Perry Como.
Cars wound through the parking lot and out onto the street, starting a traffic jam that would hold up Victory Road for hours as parents waited for their trip through the school’s drive-through “Polar Express.”
Endeavor, a Title I school near Nampa’s municipal airport, typically celebrates the holidays with a school-day Polar Express celebration. Students wear PJ’s to school, eat cookies and hot chocolate in class, read and listen to a version of the book narrated by Liam Neeson. Most years, kids receive shoe-boxes full of small presents and necessities packed by students at Lake Ridge elementary.
When the Nampa School District decided to move entirely online after Thanksgiving, a new tradition was born. Staff concocted a way to recreate their holiday celebration outside, in drive-through fashion. Each grade level decorated an outdoor pavilion as a themed train car, and costumed staff handed presents to students through the windows of their parents’ cars. Community businesses donated thousands of dollars to pay for extra gifts and Wednesday’s goodie bags held books and fast-food gift cards, T-shirts, socks and toothbrushes, and a special present picked out by teachers. Kindergarten girls got dolls, teacher Kris Szymanski said, and the boys got Lego sets.
Families were greeted by a “conductor” at the start, and given a ticket to vote for their favorite display. They paraded past a candy-cane train car and another filled with toys; met elves and Whos from Whooville and even a masked Santa Clause who quizzed them about their favorite displays.
“Remember me, Santa?” one little boy shouted through his window.
“This is awesome,” parents said as they cruised by, some with cars packed to lap-room only, others still in construction neon’s after a full day of work. As they chatted with teachers, parents’ praise mixed with questions about school work.
Staff danced to Christmas tunes to ward off the cold, cheering when students from their classes pulled through.
The fifth-grade team swarmed cars in a group, jumping and shrieking as they ran to each car.
“Fifth graders hate it when we do that,” teacher Kiersten Rood said mischievously.
“I miss seeing you every day!” they shouted. “Check out our unicorn!” “Vote for fifth grade!”
The energetic team won the vote of 2nd grader, Christopher, who liked the enormous snowman the teachers built from boxes.
Third-grader Georgia, favored the Grinch-themed booth where first-grade teachers dressed up as Whos. Teacher Tersa McCarty spent more than an hour arranging a cup in her hair as part of an extravagant Cindy Loo Who costume. She tromped through snowey slush in a tutu, dashing to an outdoor heater to warm-up during the lulls in traffic.
“This is so cool. We get to experience it with the whole family,” McCarty said.
“…Any time with them is worth the frozen toes.”