Hoover Elementary first grade students open gifts from Sprague High School students on Dec. 17, 2021 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

First graders at Hoover Elementary School vibrated with excitement as Gwen Duncan and Juliana Fuentes stepped into their classroom.

“What. The. Heck.” one student deadpanned as the Sprague High School juniors set down a box overflowing with gift bags.

“That’s so many presents! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” six-year-old Jordan Swain called out.

About 30 Sprague students flooded the northeast Salem elementary school Friday morning to spread Christmas cheer, delivering gifts for all 400 Hoover students.

It’s a tradition so long-standing that neither Hoover’s principal, Bridget West, nor the Sprague teachers who organize the event are quite sure how it got started.

Hoover is across the city from Sprague, and its students generally attend North Salem High School.

But about 20 years ago, a group of Sprague students decided they wanted to bring gifts and spend some time with students at Hoover, where about 90% of students live below the poverty line.

West said the tradition was a top question she got asked when school moved online last year.

“That was the number one thing - are we going to get to do our Sprague day?” West said.

Gwen Duncan, left, and Juliana Fuentes, juniors at Sprague High School, carry gifts to a first grade class at Hoover Elementary on Dec. 17, 2021 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Stefani Atkinson, a Sprague English teacher and the school’s activities coordinator, recalled visiting Hoover on the Friday before winter break when she was a student at Sprague.

“It’s very cool to be back and organizing it,” she said Friday as she carried teetering stacks of gift boxes into classrooms.

Atkinson said in the weeks leading up to the event, Sprague organizers survey teachers who have kids in elementary school to assemble a list of suggested presents. Then, teachers around the school collect donations that Sprague students bring in.

The school’s leadership classes delivered the gifts, arriving at Sprague around 7 a.m. Friday, hours before their classes normally start. After loading up hundreds of gift bags, boxes of art supplies and story books, they rode buses to Hoover, where they spent the morning visiting classes.

Gifts from Sprague High School students await students at Hoover Elementary on Dec. 17, 2021 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Both schools were holding pajama day, so students and teachers were decked out in cozy flannel and snowflake motifs.

Two high schoolers went to each Sprague classroom, leading students in an art activity, then reading them a Christmas- or holiday-themed picture book before passing out gifts.

First grade teacher Nicole Linde is new to Hoover, so it was her first year experiencing “Sprague Day.” But she said some of her students already knew of the tradition.

“They were super excited. Some of them had heard from older siblings,” she said.

In Linde’s classroom, each student got a bag of gifts including a fleece blanket, several small toys and coloring books or other activities. Several students who received small gel lizards

threw them against the ceiling and walls to see how well they’d stick as others raced Hot Wheels cars or broke out shiny new colored pencils.

Sprague students who participated said seeing the kids’ responses is the best part.

“Just seeing the kid’s faces light up - it’s adorable,” said Delaney Wehr, a senior and Sprague’s student body vice president.

Sprague High School students gather at Hoover Elementary on Dec. 17, 2021 to distribute holiday gifts to students (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Hoover Elementary first grade students work on a craft project on Dec. 17, 2021 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Gwen Duncan, left, and Juliana Fuentes, juniors at Sprague High School read "The Night Before Christmas" to a first grade class at Hoover Elementary School on Dec. 17, 2021 to distribute holiday gifts to students (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Gifts from Sprague High School students await students at Hoover Elementary on Dec. 17, 2021 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Juliana Fuentes, left, a Sprague High School junior, works on a pipe cleaner craft with Jordan Swain, 6, at Hoover Elementary on Dec. 17, 2021 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected]om or 503-575-1241.

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