ROOTS Program and Wheeler

HOLIDAY SMILES — Students and staff from the ROOTS Program donated and decorated a Christmas tree to Wheeler Mission on Dec. 3. The students also rasised money or the Salvation Armry.

Spreading holiday cheer to the city’s homeless population is how one group of IPS students chose to give back to the community before heading out for winter break.

ROOTS program tree

On Dec. 3, students in Daarina Ingram’s class in the ROOTS program (Reclaiming Our Opportunities to Succeed) donated and decorated a live Christmas tree for residents at the Wheeler Mission, a homeless shelter for men in downtown Indianapolis.

The idea was sparked during a therapy session in Ingram’s class at ROOTS — an IPS alternative educational program housed in the old McFarland school building on the city’s south side. The ROOTS program is designed for students in Grades K-12 who have severe special and mental health needs.

“It’s not just educational, we are also addressing the behavioral, special needs, and the mental health altogether,” said Ingram, a therapeutic teacher. “The goal is to prepare students to get back into their boundary school to be with their general education peers and for them to receive the same education as those peers.”

Students learn math, language, history and other academic lessons, as well as coping and self-regulatory skills in the program. They used many of these skills for the Wheeler project.

To obtain the tree, students created a letter asking for it to be donated — providing a tax ID number for added measure. Their wish was granted by Jennifer Harford, a teacher at the ROOTS program who owns a Christmas tree farm.

“That taught students how to ask for a donation and then be able to give the donation,” said Carmen Roemer, a therapeutic classroom assistant.

Students also secured decorations for the tree — garland, blubs and decorative balls. Some also made snowflakes, a ninja star and handwritten Christmas cards. Family and friends also donated decorations.

Ingram and Roemer’s students are pleased with the service they provided for the residents at Wheeler.

“It was
a great experience,” said eighth-grader Charles W., 14. “Giving back for us is good because some people don’t understand what they have and what others don’t have. It’s good to give back; it’s the most important thing.”

“(At first) I didn’t want to go because I didn’t know the men, but it made me feel good to give back,” said Jordan W., 13, a seventh-grader.

It only took about 45 minutes to decorate the tree once inside. The rest of their time was spent touring the facility and learning more about the mission.

“While working on this community project, we learned that one of our students had lived in the Julian Center, a local shelter for abused women and children, and it kind of gave more meaning to what we were doing at Wheeler,” said Ingram.

The Wheeler Mission project isn’t the only way these ROOTS students chose to give back this holiday season. Using math and other real-life skills, Ingram’s students also raised $80 for the Salvation Army by creating, packaging and selling reindeer hot chocolate in two different varieties — chocolate chip and peppermint.

ROOTS students who participated in the Christmas tree donation to Wheeler Mission were Jordan W., Davion H., Charles W., Abigail A. and Jabril M.

ROOTS students who participated in the Reindeer Hot Chocolate Cones for the Salvation Army were Davion H., Jordan W., Anthony “Ishmeal” P., Da’Von B. and Charles W.