Shawnee High School students and teachers will participate in the 24th annual Christmas Connection event Thursday, Dec. 12 from 10:40 to 11:30 a.m. and give out gifts to the children of Crossroads Head Start in the SHS Performing Arts and Athletic Center.

According to Mary Rolette, SHS Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) teacher, this event began 24 years ago as a community project for Family, Career and Consumer Leaders of America (FCCLA).

"Christmas Connection was started by Christine Brown and Trudy Smith at Shawnee High School in 1995...They chose the children at Head Start because this program only takes children from families with monetary needs," Rolette said. "Currently, 85 children attend Crossroads Head Start."

Christmas Connection, Rolette said, is still a community project for FCCLA and its purpose is to encourage students to give gifts or help out of the kindness of their hearts and with the knowledge that they might not get anything in return.

Rolette explained another important founder of this tradition was former SHS Assistant Principal Roger McCoin.

"When Roger McCoin...moved me from the middle school to the high school in 2014, he was adamant about us, the FCS department, continuing Christmas Connection," Rolette said. "Roger never bragged or even let anyone know some of the special things he did for students."

Rolette said McCoin knew high school students couldn't buy gifts for Christmas Connection, but he encouraged them to bring treats, organize games and just give back however they could.

According to Rolette, this event benefits students because it gives them an opportunity to help others even if it's in little ways.

"Our students learn how to give and use their talents to help others...They invest their time making the room look nice. Some are great hosts and hostesses and use their talents in this area," Rolette said. "Every student is needed to make this a success. It's not just the ones who can buy presents."

The educator explained every year students are excited to do their part and many volunteer to help out.

"Most students are eager to help....It's something Shawnee students have. It is a tradition they are a part of. They don't just experience it. They make it happen. Without the teachers and students, Christmas Connection wouldn't happen," Rolette said.

For Rolette and SHS students, the educator said, the best aspect of the event is seeing how excited everyone is and how joyful the children seem.

"The students usually talk about seeing how happy their little kids are with everything from food to presents...The best part is they are apart (of it). The whole school pitches in," Rolette said. "I love walking up and down the halls while the children and their parents are in the rooms. You hear laughter and music; students, teachers, children and parents. Everyone is getting along."