By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
Students at South Hampton K-8’s elementary school in Pratt City received quite the surprise on Tuesday morning – blue elves.
The students walked in a single file line into the cafeteria and were greeted with a line of cheers, celebrations and high fives by “blue elves” part of BBVA Compass’s Project Blue Elf, an annual holiday initiative that provides children in low-to-moderate income areas with toys.
Not long after arriving at school, 180 kindergarten through second graders heard the story of the Ginger Bread Man as BBVA Compass Birmingham CEO Andrea Smith read the story.
“Story-reading is always wonderful,” said Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring, who was present.
Students were also given $25 vouchers for new savings accounts, which is a “multifaceted” benefit, Herring said.
“That’s not just financial literacy and responsibility at young ages, it’s life-changing,” said the superintendent. “It’s our opportunity to show the students the power and importance of managing money. That puts just as big a smile on my face as gifts, because that’s lifelong learning, and that’s starting them early on the right track financially.”
Smith said it also gives the children an opportunity to learn about banks.
“Many times children don’t know banks, they don’t know what banks are,” she said. “So it’s an easy way, one on one, to demonstrate that they can have their own account. And it’s a little encouragement to go ahead and open it now.”
Smith said she is also proud of the employees who assist with the initiative, which is in its fifth year.
“The response we get every year, every time we have sign-ups, it’s complete in like 20 seconds,” she said. “Because they see it as a way to really give back and interact with children.”
Alicica Washington, the principal at South Hampton, said the gift helps with the school’s emphasis on math.
“Money matters,” she said. “We’re going to invite various departments from BBVA to teach students about savings, so they can learn the importance of saving and how it affects the everyday life.”
Students learn another lesson as well, Washington said.
“It’s teaching the children about giving,” she said. “They were the recipients, but they learned that this time of year is about giving, not self.”
After students were read the story of the Gingerbread Man, they decorated their own with blue icing and toppings.
Each student received a toy for Christmas from Mr. Potato Head to games – Candy Land, Trouble, Connect Four – troll dolls and Play-Doh sets.
Project Blue Elf is a partnership with Birmingham City Schools, Herring said.
“It is a clear investment in children and making sure as many as possible have an opportunity to receive a gift during the holiday season,” she said. “But it’s also a chance for the kids to see adults being proactive and supportive, and engage in ways that take them out of the classroom, but still make it relevant to the learning experience. And given the time of the year, it’s a way to ensure smiles and happiness as the season starts.”