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A holiday treat at Tower View

Tower View Alternative School language arts teacher Jessica Zuehlke tells a story Thursday as students Kim Linn and Brianna Magnuson listen just before they are served a holiday meal at the school. R-E photo by Mike Longaecker

For many Tower View Alternative School students, Christmastime shapes up to be a cold, lonely experience.

"Not every student here gets to be with their family during the holidays," student Kristina Adler said.

Knowing the struggles many of his students face, Tower View teacher Mark Phillips launched an event earlier in the decade attempting to spread warmth and holiday cheer to those students.

"A lot of the kids we have don't have much for the holidays," he said.

Each year students are treated to a first-class meal at the school, where community and school leaders join them for a sit-down meal where they're served what Phillips called "top-shelf" food.

The meals are cooked by chefs who normally prepare food for Anderson Center artists in residence, while Anderson Center Director Robert Hedin and Tower View staff pick up most of the tab.

Some students choose to spiff it up, which Phillips said proves the students treat the event as a special occasion.

"They dress up, they look good," he said.

On Thursday, Tower View held its seventh annual Holiday Gathering, where students donned festive hats and soaked in what many described to be a family-like atmosphere.

"No one should be alone during the holidays," student Mitch Prescott said, calling the Tower View community "a great big family."

For students at the alternative school, it's a welcome gesture - especially when it might be the closest thing to a family holiday meal some of them will get this year.

"It shows that the teachers and the staff care about the students," student Regis Edwards said.

He said it's heartening knowing Tower View staff acknowledges the unique challenges students there face.

"They might not have the same type of family structure as they do at the regular high school," Regis said of classmates.

Prescott pointed to another benefit of the event: breaking down stereotypes.

"It gives the leaders of the schools a chance to come and see we're not the rough outcast crowd," he said.

Meanwhile, organizers of the event said the feeling of gratitude is mutual.

"Deep down, they appreciate it," Phillips said.