It feels like family: Celebrating the holidays at Shelterwood

The Shelterwood staff works hard to make the holidays bright for students staying on campus over the break.

At any time during the year, about 20 percent of the residents are new to Shelterwood. New students are required to remain on campus for a period of time to help them acclimate, establish routines and launch good habits.

When this introductory period coincides with winter holidays, this time can be extra challenging for Shelterwood’s students and for their parents at home. Being away from family during Thanksgiving and Christmas can intensify homesickness. Even when students are experiencing a lot of inter-family conflict, staying at Shelterwood can offer relief, but being in a new environment for this season can still be difficult.

“Some take it better than others,” says Jane Lawrence, Shelterwood’s Registrar and organizer of many holiday gatherings. “For the most part, this season is difficult because it is not normal,  even if it is not comfortable at home.”

Shelterwood makes sure to maintain the same high student-to-staff ratios during holiday vacations and create festive, cozy environments in the boys’ and girls’ houses—complete with Christmas trees from the tree farm down the road and gifts to open on Christmas morning.  

A Commitment to Cheer

Jane came to Shelterwood in 2005 when her husband, John, accepted the position as Principal of Shelterwood Academy. At the same time, Shelterwood was looking for a Registrar; Jane’s previous work experience was a great fit. Officially the Registrar, Jane also runs Shelterwood’s main office.

Her commitment to bringing holiday cheer to Shelterwood students started from the beginning. Early on, even before her family completed their move to Missouri, the Lawrences traveled to Shelterwood to spend Thanksgiving with the staff and residents. After John, Jane and their two daughters settled in, they began hosting Shelterwood students and staff at their house for Christmas. The first year, the guys’ house baked bread and the girls’ house made cookies. They ate together, played games and then all went to see a movie together.

“At the end of the evening, as the kiddos were heading back to Shelterwood, they were like, ‘Wow, this is one of the funnest Christmases I’ve ever had’,” Jane remembers. “That made us feel good; it felt like they weren’t missing as much. But it was the same for us: It felt like we were part of a family.”

Since then, the Lawrences have integrated Shelterwood into their holiday plans. “It’s been a tradition in our family to be at Shelterwood whenever we are in town for the holiday,” Jane says.

This Thanksgiving, Jane helped head up a feast for 40, held in Shelterwood’s dining hall. Several residents’ families joined them for the dinner, which had all the traditional trimmings: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, bread, apple pie and pumpkin pie, A la mode, of course.

“Getting involved and giving back makes the holidays,” Jane says of celebrating with the Shelterwood crew. “Out here in Missouri, it’s just the four of us, but we are part of a family at Shelterwood—a big wonderful family! That is what has been fun for us.”

Creating New Bonds

Another benefit to hosting Shelterwood holiday gatherings, at Thanksgiving and Christmas, is creating new bonds between the students and staff.

“The kids end up relating to me a little more personally,” Jane says. “Instead of just being ‘Oh, she’s the lady at the main office,’ I end up being ‘Miss Jane.’”

Jane says she loves being able to connect with the kids on that more social level. When they come into the office, they have more to talk to me about other than schedules and transcripts.

Most of all, going big on holiday gatherings helps make students feel valued and included. The intentionality behind the celebrations helps ease the stress they may feel from being away from home. The Lawrences and the rest of the Shelterwood staff are committed to celebrating with our new students and making the most of their time with us.

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Posted in School Activities