Christmas came early Friday for special needs students at Jacksonville ISD.

For 18 years, the Glenda Jean Mostyn and Joe E. Moreno Educational Foundation has taken the school’s special needs students on a Christmas shopping spree during its annual Christmas Lights Program.

Jacksonville was the first school the foundation served by the program, which has since expanded across the state, executive director Monte Osburn said.

Friday’s trip included 75 students, 47 guests and 75 staff members, with each student receiving $50 to spend on gifts for themselves or others.

“(Our founder) Steve Mostyn’s mother was a special education aid in Tyler at the St. Louis school, so when she passed away, he wanted to do something to honor her,” Osburn said. “The Christmas program here today started in Jacksonville 18 years ago. We have 19 school districts and over 1,200 kids we take to Wal-Mart to select their own gifts.”

Osburn said the shopping spree allows the students to practice life skills in a real world setting.

“Their teachers and aides are here with them selecting those toys, helping them learn life skills, how to behave in social settings and how to count money,” he said.

Jacksonville ISD Director of Special Education Sara Gill said the event is one of the best days of the year, not just for students, but their teachers and aides as well.

“I was able to participate as a teacher and it’s something the kids look forward to so much, every single year,” she said. “They’re excited. They have the opportunity to come and spend time with their friends and be out in the community while practicing some skills they’re going to use for life. It’s always a joyous, joyous occasion for them.”

Gill said the students love the interaction with their peers and often use the money to buy gifts for others.

“They may get gifts for themselves, they may get gifts for their brothers and sisters,” she said.

Teachers and guests helped students pick out gifts and tally up their totals, ensuring they stayed at or under their $50 limit before heading up front to check out.

After shopping, the group headed over to First United Methodist Church for a holiday meal with their teachers and families.

Twitter: @TMT_Cory

Cory is a multimedia journalist and member of the Education Writers Association, Criminal Justice Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has appeared on The Murder Tapes, Crime Watch Daily and Grave Mysteries on Investigation Discovery.

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