By REBECCA ISENHART
REXFORD — Second-graders at Glencliff Elementary School prepared for Thanksgiving with a tradition so special, they couldn’t keep it for themselves.
It was the third annual Special Person Day, held each year the day before Thanksgiving recess at Glencliff. Each second-grader invites someone special to come to class for a day, where teachers guide the children and their guests in exercises about gratitude. It’s a tradition unique within the Niskayuna Central School District.
“As we approach the holiday, I wanted kids to get a better understanding of its true meaning,” said second-grade teacher Kristy Guest as she supervised a classroom that was twice as full as usual.
Some guests sat in kiddie chairs with their second-grade hosts on their laps, while others sat on the carpet nearby. It was tough to walk from one side of the room to another — every inch was full of grown-ups and second-graders talking about gratitude.
“At this time of year, we’re so centered around the things we’re thankful for,” Guest said. When Special Person Day started three years ago, she envisioned it would be a way for her students to remember to focus on others, rather than items.
For Special Person Day, kids are allowed to invite anyone they want to thank.
This year’s visitors included parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and former and current teachers. Even Guest was a special person for one of her students, which she said was a special honor.
Visitors get to see their host students’ classrooms, then go to lunch with them in the cafeteria.
“It was kind of neat to see who the kids had chosen,” Guest said. “It’s a great way for families to get into the classroom.”
Second-grader Levent Doganaksoy showered his dad, Necip, with handmade thank-you gifts.
“He’s nice to me, and he helps me in math when I’m stuck, and he plays basketball with me,” Levent said while sitting on his dad’s lap at his classroom desk.
The elder Doganaksoy, who works on wind turbines at GE, probably doesn’t have to stretch too hard to help out with second-grade math. That doesn’t make him any less impressive to his young son.
“He helps me with four- and five-digit numbers,” Levent said.
It was obvious that the special event would be just as memorable for the father as it was for his son.
“He wrote this letter for me,” Doganaksoy said with a smile.
They had moved on to listing why they were thankful for fire drills. Each student and special person pair had drawn a random noun from a hat and were tasked with describing why they were thankful for that thing. Guest picked the exercise hoping that kids and parents would have fun while getting into the habit of being thankful for everyday things.
Second-grader Miles Bisnett and his grandma, Diane Bisnett, sat together and wrote down all the reasons they were thankful for books. Miles likes joke books, Bisnett said.
Miles was quick to list reasons he adored his grandmother, from camping trips to cookies.
“If we didn’t have grandmas, we wouldn’t have our mom or dad!” he exclaimed.
Each second-grade teacher celebrates differently with the students and their guests. Down the hall, teacher Dan Matthews handed out activity packets to visitors and their hosts. They worked together to color, complete word searches and puzzles, figure out mazes and play games.
Lillian Joralemon invited her Uncle William to Matthews’ class for a fun afternoon together.
“We sometimes go to my grandma’s and eat lunch,” she said.
This was a special occasion, though — Lillian’s uncle had never been to her classroom before. He had brought flowers to surprise her, and they spent their time before lunch coloring together.
“Mine are the ones outside the lines,” he said, laughing.”
“I love my family!” Lillian said.
Shane Goldberg sat on the classroom rug with his aunt, Mary Berkery. It was a very special event for the two of them because Berkery had just moved to the area from a different part of the state.
Shane said he and his aunt had been spending lots of quality time together lately.
“We went to a basketball game,” he said shyly, thinking back to a University at Albany event.
At Glencliff, Berkery was spoiling her nephew some more.
“I brought a special treat,” she said, revealing a lunch cooler with Twizzlers inside.
Sweet displays of affection between kids and the adults they look up to were repeated throughout the second-grade classrooms at Glencliff. But Guest said the event wasn’t just about the Thanksgiving holiday.
The children had been focused on gratitude throughout November, and she hoped they would continue in that mind-set.
“Earlier in the month, they wrote thank-you letters to veterans, both family members and people they’ve never met,” she said.
“It’s amazing how bright they are and the things that come out of them.”