The Block Island Times
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This way to the Polar Express

By Gloria S. Redlich | Dec 25, 2012
Photo by: Gloria Redlich Conductor Howie Rice takes tickets for the Polar Express journey to the North Pole. First grade teacher Lauri McTeague stands by.

Just a week and a half before Christmas, first grade teacher Lauri McTeague and her class had finished reading Chris Van Allsburg’s popular picture book, “The Polar Express,” as well as many other books by the author, a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design. It was time for island school children — first graders and their sixth grade reading buddies — to recreate the dramatic journey to the North Pole that the holiday classic depicts.

With the help of Co-Principal Chuck Mello, sixth grade teacher Marlee Lacoste, a group of parents and “conductor” Howie Rice, the Block Island School’s bus was transformed into the magical train, which has the power of flight and journeys to the North Light.

To while away the long flight north, while Ms. McTeague turned the pages and showed the pictures, parent John Cullen read Van Allsburg’s tale to a rapt audience. A young boy who has begun to doubt his faith in Santa Claus awakens to the roar of a train whistle, only to discover a train has come to take him to the village in the North Pole where Santa lives and works his magic. One of many children on the train, the boy is amazed at the existence of the Pole and the community of elves who work to assist Santa. He is further startled to be chosen by Santa to receive the first gift of Christmas.

Though he knows he may select anything he wishes for, he chooses one of the reindeers’ harness bells. Unfortunately, there is a hole in the pocket of his robe and he loses his precious gift, until it is restored to him on Christmas morning. When he rings it, only the children can hear it, not their parents.

The narrator concludes by saying, “At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as the years passed, it fell silent for all of them.” Even his sister, who at one time can also hear it, “could no longer hear its sweet sound.” He adds, “Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.”

During the local odyssey, with carols filling in the background spaces, the “train” made a special stop — at the lobster-pot Christmas tree in Esta’s Park, where the company all traipsed out for a group photo documenting their adventure. And boarded again for the final lap to the North, where Ms. McTeague cautions the children to “bundle up, for it may be very cold. I’ve heard it is minus 35 degrees Fahrenheit.”

On their return from the polar expedition, students found hot chocolate and a Polar Express cake, created by Ms. McTeague for all to indulge in — helping them ease back into the world of school and books. This writer was reminded of words in “101 Things You Should do Before Your Kids Leave Home,” by David Bordon and Tom Winters: “Books fall open, you fall in. When you climb out again, you’re a bit larger than you used to be.”

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