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How The Boy from The Polar Express Saved Christmas

Updated on November 20, 2016

My youngest daughter had a hearing problem when she was little. She was essentially deaf between 1 and 3 years old; after she had surgery to fix her hearing, she was placed in special education classes so she could catch up.

After a couple of years in special ed, her teachers suggested we "mainstream" her, which means putting her in regular classes. Her doctor said it was too soon and predicted she would fail and wind up back in special ed.

But that year, she was blessed with an amazing kindergarten teacher, Jeff Thompson (Mr. T). He won several major "Teacher of the Year" awards, including the Disney award; he beat out 150,000 other teachers that year! My daughter thrived in his classroom and silenced all her haters.

Mr. T told kids that he was the boy from the story.
Mr. T told kids that he was the boy from the story. | Source

Every quarter, Mr. T built a new project for the kids to enjoy: a life-size dinosaur dig; a space capsule; Chinatown for the New Year.

But it was his Christmas tradition that really touched my heart.

He said that one year, before Christmas, one of his students arrived at school, sad as can be. Not only was the little boy's father deployed to Iraq, but several older kids on his bus had cruelly revealed that, HA! There is no Santa Claus! Mr. T's heart practically broke for the little boy.

So, every year, on the day before his class gets out for Christmas break, Mr. T has a pajama party. The kids love sitting around their classroom in their jammies, eating cookies and watching The Polar Express on the big screen. What the kids don't know is that Mr. T already prepped them for the party by reading the book to them the day before.

(If you don't know the story, it's about a boy who's losing his belief in Santa ... but then the Polar Express arrives in front of his house to take him to the North Pole! When he gets off the train, he's scared because he cannot hear the bells on Santa's sleigh; he thinks he's too old to believe in Santa! After few moments, he decides that he does believe in Santa, and the bells jingle once again for him. Santa chooses him as the child who will receive the first gift of Christmas. He only asks for a bell from Santa's sleigh which he sadly loses before he gets back on the train, because he has a hole in the pocket of his housecoat. The next morning - Christmas morning! - under the Christmas tree, he opens up his box from Santa and what does he find inside? Santa's bell, delivered by the Big Guy himself!)

Jeff Thompson, the teacher who saved Christmas for one little boy
Jeff Thompson, the teacher who saved Christmas for one little boy

But that's not the special part. Anybody can read a story or show a movie.

After the movie ends, and the kids are left with a renewed faith in Santa, Mr. T grabs a big, red velvet bag out of his storage closet and brings it over to the kids. It jingles ever so quietly as he walks over to them; all curious eyes are on him as he plops it down and begins to root through the bag, like he's searching for something.

"Can you hear it?" he asks them as he digs through the bag. Twenty-five heads nod enthusiastically. Yes! Of course they can hear the bells!

Finally, when the excitement is almost too much to bear, he pulls a big, golden bell slowly out of the bag and says, very solemnly, "I am the little boy from the story."

Huge gasps of disbelief from the audience. You could hear mistletoe drop. "I am the little boy from The Polar Express."

"That was you??"

"Yes." He jangled the bell. "Santa gave me this bell ... and he also asked me to give each of you all a bell from his sleigh." And then he reached into the big, red bag and pulled out a bell for each student. Pure magic!

Oh! The joy on their faces, to think that Santa himself had given them those bells!

It was such a small gesture that meant the world to so many kids over the years. We have a lot to learn from folks like Jeff Thompson, the little boy from The Polar Express.

© 2015 Carrie Peterson


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