Youngsters learn lesson in giving

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— For most kids, the holiday season is a time for getting gifts.

But a group of 40 youngsters at Steamboat Springs Kinderhaus Family Center got a valuable and educational lesson in giving last week.

Needing to free up space at the daycare and kindergarten facility, Kinderhaus director Diane Carter boxed up dozens of children's books, planning to donate them locally.

A conversation with her son, Matt, changed her mind.

Matt Carter, 25, moved to Alaska this summer to become a kindergarten teacher at a school in the remote village of Stebbins, located near the Bering Strait on Norton Sound.

Stebbins is not a typical American town.

The 200 students at the K-12 school where Carter teaches make up almost half of Stebbins' population, which is mostly native Yupik Eskimos. There are no cars, stores or running water there, and most of the locals speak broken English if they speak English at all, Diane Carter said.

Education is new to the people of Stebbins and most of the adults are illiterate, according to e-mails sent by Matt Carter.

Carter is really enjoying his time in Stebbins regardless of the struggle to get accustomed to the remote Alaskan way of life, his mom said.

"It's just incredible the experiences he's having," she said. "He's trying to get as much as he can out of it."

He adores his 15 students, but was upset when he realized he couldn't buy presents for them because of the lack of stores in Stebbins, Diane Carter said.

An idea popped into Diane Carter's mind.

"The parents don't read, so the kids don't have any books in their homes," she said.

Beginning two weeks ago, the 10 kids in Amy Morris' Kinderhaus kindergarten class designed their own wrapping paper for books, carefully selected by each student for a particular Stebbins student. They finished wrapping the books last Tuesday and they were mailed to Alaska Wednesday.

"They had a ball," Morris said. "Once it sunk in that the other kindergartners didn't have any books, they really got excited about it."

A couple days later, the kids were still excited.

"We made books for presents," said 5-year-old Ellie Dorsey, jumping up and down while flashing a toothy grin. "It was fun because we're going to send it to them and they don't have any books to teach."

A picture of each Kinderhaus kindergartner was included with the books, along with candy canes.

While the intention was to help educate the kids in Stebbins, the book-giving experience proved educational for the Kinderhaus students as well.

"We're trying to make it a multicultural experience for them," Carter said.

"Do you know how we have to get there (Alaska)?" Dorsey asked, as if on cue. She dragged her little index finger across a United States map from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado diagonally until she reached an inset map of Alaska.

"There!" she said.

"It makes them feel like they're important, and that they're giving something to someone else, instead of just getting presents," Diane Carter said.

Almost 3,000 miles from each other and maybe too young to understand kindergartners living very different lives are teaching each other lifelong lessons.

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