ST. GEORGE – During the holiday season, when feelings of goodwill and inspirations for charitable giving abound, consider the less-than-fortunate students of the Washington County School District and Dixie Sun Elementary School as potential recipients of your donations. There is no shortage of opportunities to help. A local mom has organized a drive for much-needed winter clothing items, while community organizations are doing their part to fund a merry Christmas for these needy children and their families.
About Dixie Sun
Located in the Dixie Downs neighborhood of St. George, Dixie Sun is unique as the only fully bilingual public school, with dual-immersion English and Spanish curriculum, in Utah. The staff serve nearly 600 students in grades K-5.
Currently, Dixie Sun has the highest number of at-risk students of any school in Washington County. These children come from low-income families, often struggle with an unstable home life and receive little, if any, support with homework. About 86 percent of the student body qualifies for free meals provided by the school.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics’ definition of an at-risk student, these children are more likely than average to fail academically, though by no fault of their own. They live at the mercy of their families’ hardships.
“We have a great school with great students. They work really hard,” Principal Kim Heki said. “Yes, they have disadvantages, but they are bigger than their disadvantages. They work hard and want to succeed.”
Dixie Sun attempts to counteract these challenges with free after-school programs offering tutoring, homework help and enrichment activities, including art and music. A mandatory uniform school, in an effort to save the significant costs of buying school clothes, Dixie Sun offers an exchange opportunity for parents who cannot afford new uniforms. By volunteering their time in service projects, they can earn gently used uniforms donated by students who have outgrown them.
The Washington County School District Foundation writes grants to help fund medical and everyday living expenses for at-risk students and their families, and Dixie Sun also receives assistance from the community. A group of SunRiver residents “adopts” a few families each holiday season, helping them afford an enjoyable Christmas, and donates backpacks and school supplies at the start of the school year.
“There’s a lot of support out there,” foundation director Pam Graf said. “When we say we have a need, the community usually steps in and helps out.”
One woman’s mission
During conversation with a friend, a former teacher, St. George resident Jennifer Porter was dismayed to learn of the financial hardships facing Dixie Sun students, and was inspired to help. She decided to start a donation drive to collect winter clothing items many of the students lack.
“I am making it my mission to make a difference for them this holiday season,” Porter said. “My goal is to make sure every child at Dixie Sun is warm this winter. It’s ambitious, but I know the people in our community have big hearts and are very generous.”
A single mother of three boys, Porter can recall a time when her family was not as fortunate as they are now. Kind friends helped during her struggle, and she wants to pay it forward as an example to her sons of the importance of giving.
“We were more than willing to work with Ms. Porter and thank her for her generosity,” Heki said. “This will be a great help to a lot of these students.”
She is seeking new or gently used coats, socks and leggings. Monetary donations, which will be used to buy these items, are also welcome.
Those willing to donate may contact Porter at 435-215-5253 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop off their contributions at the school.
“It is the holiday season, and there are many charities, food banks and homeless shelters that you may donate to. I am asking that you consider donating to Dixie Sun this year,” Porter said. “Make a difference for these little ones and dig through your closets, attics, basements, pockets and wallets to help me reach this goal.”
District-wide fundraising efforts
Sadly, the situation at Dixie Sun isn’t unique. The school district currently has over 750 enrolled students whose families are homeless, and many more living below the poverty line.
The foundation started raising money for at-risk students in 2009 and every holiday season, works with organizations including KSL Quarters for Christmas and KONY Coins for Kids to provide local families with gifts and food. Last year, they received $5,200 from KSL alone and helped 45 students overall.
Those interested in contributing to district-wide efforts to help needy children can donate to either group, or contact the foundation at 435-673-3553. Even a small amount can make a big difference.
“A favorite quote that comes to mind is, ‘No man stands as tall as when he kneels to help a child,’” Graf said. “Our community is such a generous and giving community, and we appreciate all they do to help our students all year long.”
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