Day of the Child

June 5, 2003
Day of the Child
By Howie Mansfield
Children’s Day 2003 a success at St. Margaret’s School

MATTYDALE — Some might call it a mix between Christmas morning and a birthday celebration. Others call it much-needed recognition of kids. St. Margaret’s School hosted Children’s Day, a state holiday for children, in the school gymnasium for all the students on May 28. Tina Norton, a retired Syracuse City School District teacher, and her fourth and fifth grade classes in the mid-1980’s lobbied legislators in Albany for a Children’s Day. The Children’s Day bill was sponsored by New York State Sen. John DeFrancisco. Ten years after Norton’s students began working on the project, the Children’s Day bill was signed into law by Gov. George Pataki in 1998. “One of my students said to me, ‘Why don’t we have a children’s day? We have a Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparents’ Day, but why not a children’s day?’ The idea was somewhat new to me but I had heard they celebrated something similar down south,” Norton said. “But the kids wanted to start one in Syracuse. Even though we didn’t get the bill passed until 1998, we celebrated Children’s Day before then and we’ve always had proclamations from the county and city for the days.”

The day is designated for the first Sunday of June. St. Margaret’s School celebrated during the entire month of May leading up to the big event. Each classroom hosted guest speakers from the local area. Colleen Hassett-Mastine, director of Constituent Services for Sen. DeFrancisco’s office, spoke to fifth grade students about how a bill is passed. Assemblywoman Joan Christensen made a similar presentation to the sixth graders. Bridget Finn, a sixth grader at St. Margaret’s School, was happy to have Assemblywoman Christensen come to her class. “She really inspired me. I want to be a lawyer or go into politics and she made me feel like it’s something I could do,” Bridget said.

Nicholas Blaney, a fifth grader, said hearing Mastine speak helped the class members formulate their own ideas for bills. “We had the idea of making Oreos the state cookie. I personally would like to have a special day for our dogs and pets,” Nicholas explained. “We just had so many ideas to talk to our state assemblyperson and state senators about.” The Children’s Day program began with the United States Honor Guard, made up of representatives of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, leading the assembly in the Pledge of Allegiance. Honored guests followed with the reading of letters from famous people around the world.

Father Fred Mannara, pastor of Most Holy Rosary Church in Syracuse, read a letter from Edward Cardinal Egan, archbishop of New York. Father Mannara recalled a similar type of festival. “When I was in Bolivia in 1996, they had a celebration called the Day of the Child. The whole city was closed down for the children,” said Father Mannara. “We want to pay attention, with great devotion, to you.” Sister Helen Ann Charlebois, IHM, Western Region superintendent of Catholic Schools, read a letter from Bishop James Moynihan. Before reading the letter, Sister Helen Ann spoke about her connection with the school. “I grew up in this neighborhood, before this school was built. It was my relatives and yours that raised the money for this school,” she said.

Letters were received from First Lady Laura Bush, Gov. Pataki, Prince Charles, Art Linkletter, and Donald Trump. Trump’s letter stated that “children are our hope and our future” and the world needs their enthusiasm and creativity. Members of St. Margaret’s chorus sang two selections, one entitled “American Tears” about the men and women in the military. All of the students, teachers and guests gave the group a standing ovation. Sister Mary Anne Heenan, CSJ, diocesan superintendent of Catholic Schools, was one of the guest speakers at the Children’s Day event. “It’s a real pleasure to celebrate with you today,” Sister Mary Anne said. “Children are a precious gift from God, parents, teachers — all of us. We must teach you well. Dreams do come true and they start with one person. If we work hard and don’t give up, our dreams do come true. … We depend on your dreams, ideas and hard work. We celebrate you. All of you will make a world of difference.”

Members of the Syracuse University football team also spoke to students. Tim Carignan, an offensive tackle for the football team, hoped students would have fun on this Children’s Day. “Work hard, listen to your teachers,” Carignan said. “You all deserve this day.” The school received two special gifts from area companies. Carrier Corporation gave the school an air conditioner to be used in a fundraising raffle and Time Warner Cable presented the school with a new digital camcorder. “It was an honor and a privledge to work with Mrs. Norton,” said Sister Miriam Anthony, OSF, principal at St. Margaret’s School. “It was a wonderful day created to celebrate our children.” After the assembly, students returned to their classrooms where they each received a special gift bag. The gifts were donated and selected by representatives from Penn Traffic and Time Warner Cable. Teddy bears, hats and books were just some of the items St. Margaret’s students gladly accepted as part of Children’s Day. “The gifts were nice,” Nicholas said. “My favorite part of the day was when we heard all the letters from the dignitaries around the world. They sent them to our school. People like County Executive Nicholas Pirro took hours out of their days to be with the students of St. Margaret’s.”

Bridget was impressed with the number of people that came to St. Margaret’s. “When we came in and saw all the speakers and guests, I thought, ‘All of this for our school?’” she said. Bridget said she was pleased Norton chose St. Margaret’s for the Children’s Day celebration. “It was an overwhelming effort to put this together and to do this all for the kids,” Bridget said. “Mrs. Norton really cares about children.”

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