Students at St. Oscar Romero Catholic Secondary School put together Romero Wonderland each Christmas for students from surrounding elementary schools. Photo by Lucy Barco

'Romero Wonderland' brings out the best in students

By 
  • December 20, 2018

At St. Oscar Romero Catholic Secondary School, students believe the true joy of Christmas is in sharing what you have. 

That’s how Giulio De Santis got the idea for Romero Wonderland about five or six years ago. De Santis is the technological education teacher in the Toronto high school. 

In his classes, Grade 10 to 12 students learn advanced woodwork and carpentry skills to build their own projects.

“The main thing is to give the kids an opportunity to give back, especially around this time of year,” he said. “Everything about it reflects the Christmastime ... and it represents our faith.”

Every year, De Santis’ three technological education classes put together a Christmas village experience. About 80 students from Grades 1 to 3 from the surrounding elementary schools came to Romero Wonderland on Dec. 17. 

The event showcased finished projects from previous years, including a wooden Nativity scene, a gingerbread house, a motorized carousel and a motorized helicopter. This year, De Santis’ students unveiled the latest addition to the Romero Wonderland — a life-size wooden train with a caboose that steams. 

Santa Claus was at the event, collecting non-perishable food items in a life-sized Christmas sleigh built by Romero students. Elementary students also enjoyed a variety of activities, like ornament decorating workshops, a puppet show and story time at the wooden Nativity scene. 

“It’s a good rush of adrenaline,” said Grade 11 student Julie Miranda, who oversaw the decoration of this year’s train project. “Because I get to see the kids who don’t exactly have a lot and they get to see something and be a part of something that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to.”

The train project began late last spring. In order to give the students enough time to build all the complicated pieces of the project, De Santis and his students began drawing concept ideas last school year. 

“The drawings, what would fit, what sizes we need, how it’s going to look in the end, the material we need, we had to get a lot of things organized right from the beginning,” said Grade 12 student Tysen Franco. “It’s been hard, a lot of hard work and time put into it to make sure it’s ready for the community.”

“It’s a big event for me because it’s a nice feeling to see someone smile for something you did,” said Grade 12 student Frank Mitchell. “You told the school that you’ve built something and they wait and they wait and when it’s time for us to show our skills, and we work all day, everyone’s relieved and happy and they see what you’ve made.”

The Romero Wonderland is a well-kept secret until the day of the reveal. Displays are covered under tarps outside of class time and the tech students avoid talking about it with their friends. It’s like a Marvel secret, said Mitchell. 

De Santis said the students throw themselves into their work in all three of his classes. In the last few weeks before the Wonderland reveal, it’s all hands on deck. 

Students have to pull out past projects from storage, re-assemble them and move them through the school halls and courtyard. Three of the displays — the helicopter, the carousel and the ferris wheel — have motorized elements and can be very complicated to install.

“Everything’s made out of wood and wood tends to warp and shift over time,” said De Santis. “There’s a lot of problem solving involved in the installation.”

De Santis said the most rewarding part about these annual projects is the look on his students’ faces. Students spend a lot of their day sitting in a classroom, so when they come to his workshop, they look forward to working with their hands. 

“When it’s done, just the look on their faces, never mind the kids that come in, but the look on their faces is incredible,” he said.

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