Holidays are a Magical Time at SCOE Special Education Sites

Holidays are a Magical Time at SCOE’s Special Education Sites

By Cynthia Fenech, SCOE

The holidays are a magical time at John F. Kennedy (JFK) and Margaret L. Annear (MLA) schools in Ceres. Operated by the Stanislaus County Office of Education, traditions run deep at both schools that serve children with special needs.


    Santa and his Elf with Lera Fennell                                                   Gingerbread House

John F. Kennedy School Gingerbread House – A 48 Year Tradition

In 1969, a woman by the name of Ruby Wilson started a tradition for JFK students that her family continues to this day.  Ruby, whose son attended JFK during that time, wanted to create something special for his class at Christmas, and so began the “gingerbread house!”

“The first house was created by our grandparents Ruby and Clinton Wilson,” shared the family. “Because it was such a hit, our grandmother decided to do it again the following year. She also decided to make the gingerbread house a little bigger so it could be shared. She used to gather all of her children and grandchildren at her home to decorate the house.”

According to the family, as the years progressed, building the gingerbread house became a competitive event between the Wilson, Baker and Usiak family members who gathered to design and create it. “Even our friends wanted to be a part of the process,” they said.

The year Ruby Wilson passed away (in 1991) was the only year that the family didn’t create the gingerbread house. “It was just too hard on us since her death was right before Thanksgiving and quite sudden,” said family members. “However, we felt it had been such a wonderful part of our family tradition and we wanted to honor the amazing woman who first created it, so we’ve continued the tradition.”  Family members began making “theme-based” houses, and currently the fifth generation is involved in the process. Throughout the year, family members gather to discuss what the theme will be for the annual gingerbread house and how they will design it.

“We feel so blessed to be a part of this wonderful 48-year family tradition,” said JFK Principal Tamara Cervantes. “Our staff and students look forward to the amazing work of art created by this very special family each year."                                     

Margaret L. Annear Preschool Programs - Santa’s Workshop

MLA hosts Santa’s Workshop each winter for the young children served in their programs (newborn through age five). “It truly is a magical day for all of our families,” said MLA Principal Tricia Tariku. “Families enjoy the opportunity to engage in a variety of activities with their young children. Santa and his Elf are always so kind and patient as the students line up to take pictures with them.  Some of our retired staff even returns each year to help out and support the wonderful festivities.”  Deputy Superintendent Don Gatti, who has been playing Santa for 10 years now along with his Elf helper, Executive Assistant Debbie Wilson, said they both enjoy participating in this holiday tradition. “It’s very moving to see the absolute excitement and love the children have for Santa,” said Gatti.

Stanislaus County Office of Education’s (SCOE) Special Education Division provides direct and indirect support services for students with special needs and their families in school settings or in the home.  Specialized services are provided to students throughout Stanislaus County from birth to age 22. SCOE staff supports district programs and operates SCOE programs on district campuses and at John F. Kennedy and Margaret L. Annear Schools. The Special Education Division also operates 51 Special Day Classes at 21 different school sites throughout the county. Children in special education programs are all too often pushed to the side, but not in Stanislaus County, where educators are dedicated to providing amazing programs and state of the art facilities for children with special needs.