28 December 2011
After polling several veterans of this field trip, I was apprehensive about taking my students to Operation Santa. This is what it reportedly entailed:
Four thousand students with special needs are seated at tables in a large square surrounded by parade fencing, in the middle of an aircraft hangar at JFK airport. After an hour or so, the hangar doors open and Santa taxis in on a jumbo jet. Then Santa boards a train/float and rides around the perimeter of the square as students variously try to get closer looks or try to avoid the noise around them.
The best thing my colleagues could say about Operation Santa was that it was a “rite of passage.” So I was naturally concerned it could have been a difficult trip for my students, given the close quarters, noise level, cool temperatures, and limited movement available.
However, I was pleasantly surprised by the trip. Organized by the Community Mayors (who also hold an excellent annual trip to the USS Intrepid Museum), there were numerous characters (including the Pink Panther) walking around to keep most of the students' attention while we waited for other schools to file in and for Santa to arrive. In addition, the square enclosure had been divided into four smaller squares, allowing for closer views of the anthropomorphic teapots, high school bands and Santa's train, as well as lessening crowding and providing easier exit points for accessing the Port-A-Potties. A pair of noise-dulling headphones I brought along for one student were also a great help.
In all, two of my three charges enjoyed the trip (a fourth would have found it too noisy and constricting), and I had a fairly good time myself. While a visit to El Museo Del Barrio and the aforementioned Intrepid Museum trip were superior, Operation Santa exceeded understandably low initial expectations.