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Airport officials promote education during the holidays

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Desmond Richardson didn't know Santa Clause could see him at school until he attended the annual Holidays at Hartsfield-Jackson event on Dec. 14.

Richardson, 6, a first-grader at Callaway Elementary School in Jonesboro, always heard Old Saint Nick knew when people have been naughty or nice, but he thought that only covered how he behaved at home. He didn't realize the criteria for making Santa's "nice" list also included paying attention to his teachers, and doing his homework.

"I'm going to behave in school, because I want Santa to come visit me," Richardson said as he left the Holidays at Hartsfield-Jackson celebration with his classmates.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport hosts Holidays at Hartsfield-Jackson at the airport's International Campus every year for more than 600 first-graders from schools in Atlanta, and Fulton and Clayton counties. The schools that participate are chosen at random.

This year, Callaway, and the Unidos Dual Language Charter School came from Clayton County; Hamilton E. Holmes Elementary School came from the Fulton County School System, and Bethune and Margaret Fain elementary schools and Deerwood Academy represented Atlanta Public Schools. Romar Academy, a private school in East Point, also participated in the event.

"These children are just beginning to look at careers, so we think now is a good time to introduce them to the aviation field," said Tracy Gilbert, the airport's program manager. "We also want to spread good will and holiday cheer to the children."

The overall theme of the program, though, was that education is important to a successful future. Ben DeCosta, the airport's general manager, used air travel as a way to encourage the students to be more successful in the classroom.

"How can you afford to fly to places like Florida, or France, or New York, or Japan?" DeCosta asked the children.

"Get a good job," said Kamonie Batts, a first-grader at Callaway Elementary School, after DeCosta picked him to respond.

"That's right, and you get a good job by doing well in school and earning good grades," DeCosta said.

Magician D'Avante Parks continued the education theme by explaining the meaning of being "nice," and telling the children that their behavior in schools heavily influenced Santa's decision to visit them.

"You're supposed to listen to your teachers. You're supposed to do your homework. You're supposed to behave yourselves," Parks said. "If you don't do those things, it's going to make it impossible for Santa to bring you any presents on Christmas."

The repeated messages about the importance of an education paid off when students said Santa was going to visit them, because they were good students.

The children had been waiting for Santa's arrival and were given a chance to tell the other children what they had done to be good in 2007.

"I'm listening to my teacher, and doing all of my homework," said Kiya Garmon, a first-grader at Unidos Dual Language Charter School. "I also got an A-plus on one of my tests."