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'Polar Express' comes to life for Colorado Springs elementary school students

December 14, 2017 Updated: December 14, 2017 at 9:48 pm
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Kids from Steele Elementary School sit in the caboose of a Polar Express golf cart float before watching the Polar Express movie at the school, on Thursday, December 14, 2017. (Nadav Soroker, The Gazette)

A serendipitous Christmas parade float created a magical feel Thursday at an annual fundraiser at Steele Elementary School.

As temperatures dropped and snowflakes meandered downward, the Polar Express - a golf cart decorated as the train a la the animated movie - imaginatively transported children to the North Pole.

"Get your tickets here," one student yelled, while others sold armbands that said "Believe" to gain entry to the film screening.

Released in 2004, the movie tells the story of a doubting young boy who takes an extraordinary train ride to the North Pole on Christmas Eve and learns about friendship, bravery and how the wonder of life never fades for those who believe.

"All aboard," a decked-out conductor called at the entrance to the school gymnasium, which featured a cardboard railroad crossing.

"We have cookies, popcorn and water. And gluten-free options," announced a student on snack detail.

"I think it's just really cool," said 10-year-old Hailey Meisel, who climbed in the back of the train that was parked on the playground before heading inside to watch the film.

Corlen Wisham, 11, talks to his friends at Steele Elementary School while sitting in the driver's seat of a Polar Express golf cart his parents made, at the school, on Thursday, December 14, 2017. Wisham's parents made the float for the Kissing Camels golf cart Christmas parade, where it won first place. (Nadav Soroker, The Gazette) 

Some 200 students spanning all grades quickly changed from school clothes into pajamas when the final bell rang.

They also put on elf hats, Santa hats and reindeer antlers and toted blankets and pillows into the gym to get comfy - and because the characters in the movie also wear pajamas, said 11-year-old Corlen Wisham.

Each year, fifth-graders at Steele Elementary in Colorado Springs School District 11 hold fundraisers throughout the school year to provide scholarships so that everyone in the class can attend a year-end celebration in the spring in Estes Park.

"My sister went on the trip, and she said it was fun," said 10-year-old Emma Bahr. "She went in a school bus, and this year they want to raise money for a nice bus."

This year, by happenstance, Bekah and Dave Wisham and their children, including fifth-grader Corlen, entered their neighborhood holiday parade competition with a "Polar Express"-themed float.

Dave Wilson, dressed up as the conductor, greets kids and checks their tickets at the Steele Elementary School gym-turned theater after the students explored a Polar Express golf cart float, on Thursday, December 14, 2017. The students watched the Polar Express movie and ate popcorn as an end of the season party. (Nadav Soroker, The Gazette) 

Of the 28 entries, they beat out a "Willy Wonka" float that came in third and a giant glowing Christmas package to take first prize in the Dec. 10 community parade in Kissing Camels.

"It's such a great family event, like a big Christmas block party, and continues to grow," Bekah Wisham said. "We're excited to be able to use the float twice this year."

Once the family heard that the movie being shown Thursday was the "Polar Express," they figured why not bring their Polar Express to the school?

The entire golf cart is encased in a light wooden frame that's painted to look like a train engine and has blinking lights, smoke billowing from the smokestack on top, a bright headlamp in front and plays holiday music.

The family built a large wagon to resemble a "Polar Express" train car and attached it to the rear, where children can ride.

Children couldn't believe their eyes that the Polar Express was at their school.

"Wow! Look at this!" some screamed.

Even parents were mesmerized.

"This is awesome," said mom Shane McCarthy. "I'm totally impressed. I had to see it."

The added feature likely elevated Corlen's status among his peers.

"He got to help build it," Hailey said.

When asked if he thought the float was impressing his classmates, Corlen chuckled and said, "Yeah."

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