Memorable holiday gifts from students to staff

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Teachers and students have a close relationship at Townsend Harris, so it’s no surprise that students often give gifts to staff members during the holiday season. Between all of the chocolate and mementos, staff members’ most memorable gifts from students have come from the heart and truly embodied the holiday spirit of giving.

Science teacher and COSA advisor Sarah Loew said that she loves getting cards because they’re things she can always keep and look at when she needs to. “The words really go a long way,” she said. Artwork is also a common gift that she receive, and she referenced a waffle-like, heart-shaped craft that she still has at her desk. Mrs. Loew didn’t know that this student made gifts like these, so one of the best parts of receiving it was also getting to learn more about that student. “[This gift] is like a hug,” she continued.

For Mrs. Loew, gifts like these are comforting because they symbolize the strong relationships that she has with students and the mutual appreciation between them. According to her, a student “[taking] the time to make [something] puts the value in the gift.”   

Georgia Brandeis, Assistant Principal of ISS and World Languages, also recalled a recent piece of art that a student gave to her. “I have an obvious love for Frida Kahlo,” she stated. There’s a student’s sketch next to her desk of one of her favorite paintings. “It meant so much to me that she thought about it and […] knew that that was the one.”

To this day, it always reminds her of the student who gave it to her, senior Jinrong Chen. Ms. Brandeis mentioned her general love for artistic gifts as well, as she keeps them in her office and her own home. “That’s my favorite kind of gift,” she said.

Rafal Olechowski, the Assistant Principal of Humanities, has a notably strong relationship with students because of his role in the Phoenix, Townsend Harris’ literary and art magazine. Many gifts that he’s received over the years have some relation to the Phoenix, including a hedgehog and a typewriter that still sits in the Phoenix office, which allegedly belonged to a British New York Times writer in the 1940’s. A typewriter and a hedgehog served as “mascots” for the Phoenix at different times. Mr. Olechowski drew them on different papers and both gradually became symbols of the magazine.

“The cards are what matter for me,” he continued, saying that it’s sometimes too emotional to read them all at once. “You go day to day doing something, and one day someone [says]… ‘thank you for doing this.’” These cards bring it all back for him, and they help remind him that what he does for students is important. “Handmade presents are really special,” he said. The holidays bring back “a deep sense of nostalgia” for him and are a reminder of the importance of giving.

The holiday season isn’t just about giving but also about how you give. As the bonds between Townsend Harris students and staff members continue to grow stronger, these gifts become even more significant and reflective of what the holidays are truly about.