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West Side Teacher Aims High in Second Annual Gift Drive

By Darryl Holliday | December 11, 2012 12:04pm | Updated on December 11, 2012 12:19pm

CHICAGO — In his first year of teaching, Ian Ballog started a Christmas gift drive for his students. Now, in his second year, he plans to collect even more donations for the kids who attend his North Lawndale school.

That first drive resulted in more than 200 items for the students at Henson Elementary School, a mix of toys, books, as well as some much needed warmth — scarves, gloves and hats — for the chilly holiday season.

This year, the 24-year-old physical education teacher and math tutor hopes to provide more — items that go a long way in the underserved neighborhoods that his kids are from. 

“I never expected I would be so much to these kids and have the responsibility I have with some of the kids,” he said. “Some come to school with no parents, some are homeless, some with broken families — I didn’t know I’d be such an important person in their lives.”

About 250 kids attend Henson, which is among the lowest performing schools in its network and is on a list of possible closures, according to Ballog.

Ballog sees every one of those 250 kids each day in the course of teaching his three physical education classes.

As a Chicago native, he said he sees himself in the kindergarten through eighth grade students who often look to him as both a friend and father figure.

On Friday, the last day of school before winter break, he’ll go class to class with surprises for each them.

“The kids were ecstatic last year,” he said. “Every kid was able to leave to leave the school with something.”

Last year’s presents included donations mostly from his family and friends, Ballog said, but this year he hopes to widen the pool.

“I don’t really have a goal — my goal is just to reach out to more people,” he said. “I just tell people I’m doing a Christmas thing for my kids — no name for it or nothin’.”

The gift drive fits in line with Ballog’s approach to taking care of his students — many of whom don’t have access to daily necessities during the season, including scarves, gloves, warm coats or a good book.

The gifts are Ballog’s way of going above and beyond.

“It’s been the best thing that could have happened to me though,” he said. “More important than anything I’ve ever done in my life. Every day I get kids coming up to me, hugging me, saying ‘I haven’t seen you all day’.”

“The responsibility level is high—you always have to be on your game.”