by Dennis Dalman
When Pine Meadow Elementary kindergartners entered “Winter Wonderland” Dec. 17, they “oohed” and “ahhed” as if they had just seen Santa land in his sleigh.
“Wow!” many of them blurted out, wide-eyed.
“I just can’t believe my eyes!” said one little girl.
“This is awesome!” a little boy exclaimed.
The Pine Meadow gym had been transformed, as if by busy overnight elves, into a Winter Wonderland complete with many strings of lights, illuminated Christmas trees, a log home, a big Grinch’s Cave and a vast sky with more than 700 paper snowflakes.
Some children rubbed their eyes as if they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Their rather homely gymnasium had been transformed into a colorful and magical Santa Land. And then the fun began. The Wonderland was actually an activity fun course during which the students had a blast while getting a very good physical work-out. They weaved a course through a line of trees, shimmied through the Grinch Cave labyrinth, crawled through the Rainbow Tunnel, did some cross-country skiing, rode sleds, hopped down Candy Cane Lane and even had a chance to go ice-fishing. The activities were, of course, virtual reality but a triumph of imagination.
During a two-day period, Dec. 16-17, all of the 700-plus students (grades kindergarten through fourth grade, had a chance to spend time in Winter Wonderland. It has been an annual tradition at the school for many years, but this year it was especially decked out and very elaborate. Oak Ridge Elementary in Sartell also hosts a Winter Wonderland.
The Pine Meadow “elves” who transformed the gym into a place of wonder and magic are physical-education teachers Gene Severson and Matt Hagen. They spent almost 14 hours putting the Wonderland together. One of the most time-consuming tasks was to take the 700 paper snowflakes the school’s children all made and hang all of them from strings from horizontal wires that criss-crossed the entire gym about 10 feet above the floor.
The results of Hagen’s and Severson’s hard work was an eye-popping riot of color from one end of the gym to the other. The children responded to the magic, having a ball in the Winter Wonderland.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.