Dresden Lions' Den Serves as Reward and Model

DMS Christmas Pop-up Shop Now in its 9th Year
Posted on 12/18/2019
This is the image for the news article titled DMS Christmas Pop-up Shop Now in its 9th YearLeigh Hart may be retired from Dresden Middle School but she continues to put her heart into an effort that not only has provided Christmas cheer for nine years in Dresden but is serving as a model for both Greenfield and Sharon Schools.

The Dresden Lions’ Den was launched in 2011 after then-Coach Hart and counselor Jamie Rickman heard of schools in other states rewarding students’ good behavior, grades and improvement with the means to purchase necessities and other items in a school store. With permission from then principal Pam Harris, they began to explore what the system might look like in Dresden.

Hart, who ultimately spent 37 years in the classroom in either health, physical education or science classes, remembers doing a survey of her students to determine exactly what the store might stock. They anonymously handed in completed tables with two columns – Wants and Needs.

“It didn’t take very long to see that the needs far outweighed the wants,” Hart recalls. “Heaters, blankets, dishes that matched, glasses that matched, and dress code items were listed. The ‘want’ side was minimal.”

The “bucks” the students earn are at the discretion of teachers. Meeting Accelerated Reading (AR) goals, improving grades, and/or achieving high grades could all result in a few more deposits in a student’s account, Hart said.

“Or if a kid drops his books and another kid helps him gather them, then a teacher might find that student later and offer a reward,” she added.

Hart and Rickman thought that from the program’s conception to reality might take a year. Instead, two months after the initial discussions they opened the doors. Getting ready included mapping out the reward process and cleaning up and configuring the closet and concession stand that now doubles as the school’s version of Walmart.
But nothing quite prepared them for what happened the first year they opened the Christmas version of the Lions’ Den.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Hart confessed. “I lined up three women to do the gift wrapping. Soon, I began to think they are never going to speak to me again as they wrapped non-stop throughout the day. I had my apology ready when we closed down but instead they hugged me and said, ‘please sign us up for next year.’”

Volunteers have steadily grown. Approximately 50 signed in last year and 2019 looked to be no exception.

Beta Club students serve as the regular store “employees” and the “elves” during the holiday hours. Isabell Cantrell and Mollie Oliver, both 8th graders, are this year’s store managers, and oversee the work of the 15 club members who focus on pricing, stocking and cleaning the store when it opens throughout the year.

Rickman says the store teaches things she would like to teach but doesn’t always have time for like “how to save money, the value of hard work and getting paid for it as well as the feeling of having earned something for themselves.”

Cantrell and Oliver agree that they have already learned numerous lessons including how to handle being a boss.
“You don’t act better than them, but they do need to do what needs to be done,” noted Oliver.

“Nice. You need to be nice,” Cantrell added.

Hart and Rickman estimate that the Christmas store features at least $5,000 of merchandise. Some of the items are purchased by the two with funds donated from the community or earned by the Beta Club. Some are items that come from former students and friends.

For example, Hart’s former coach and teammates recently traveled from Memphis to deliver more than $100 of specialty bath and body items.

Hart, who laughingly acknowledges her first students are now just over 50 years of age, obviously delights in the support that her former students now give the holiday effort. She points to Brittany Hoskins Terrell and sister Kristen Kibbler who are waiting to wrap more gifts that the students bring after scouring the lines of tables covered in goods. Terrell lives in Hawaii and called Hart to ensure she would have a spot on the wrapping team.

The appreciation for Hart’s contribution is easily recognizable as a short interview is frequently interrupted by students’ “Hi, Coach,” fellow teachers’ “Love ya, Coach,” and friends’ ensuring that she’s getting a sample of the homemade snacks from the lounge.

While lessons learned are usually left for the students, Hart and Rickman easily attest they have garnered a few of their own.

“Kids who have the least are usually the most giving,” Hart recognizes as she underscores that when the students have the opportunity to purchase anything they want, many often choose to use their “cash” on items like their family’s Christmas tree. And most have their arms filled with everything from candles to crockpots – items more in line with mom’s tastes than teens.

Caught in the throes of shopping fervor, 5th grader Jhene Shane said the games in her arms were for her brother, and Remington McClure, also a 5th grader, had a blanket for his grandmother along with a pillow for himself.

Since Hart is now retired, Rickman values the opportunity to work once again beside her co-organizer and friend. When asked about Hart’s legacy, she volunteers, “Professionally, I’ve benefited because I’ve watched how she interacts with students. They trust her. Kids don’t trust everybody,” the longtime counselor observed. “And personally, she’s one of my best friends. But I imagine lots of people like to claim that. She’s rather popular.”

One reason for that might easily be the other lesson Hart hopes students take away from the Lions’ Den. “In a community, it’s everybody’s job to help everybody.”


The Lions’ Den committee is made up of Beta Club members who devote time to the store each month cleaning, checking inventory, stocking shelves and selling. They serve as “elves” during the set-up, daylong store opening, and clean-up. Shown here are (back row, left to right) Anabelle Spence, Alise Stafford, Britney Bell, Mollie Oliver, Ellie Poole, Kaylee Jarred, Haylee Jarred, Summer Di Pietro; (front row, left to right) Anniston Perry, Alyssa Bradley, Ashlee Mallon, Isabell Cantrell, Gillian Melton, Paisley Pittman, Marlee Scronce.

Jhene Shane
5th grader Jhene Shane said the games in her arms were for her brother.

Remington McClure
Remington McClure, also a 5th grader, had a blanket for his grandmother along with a pillow for himself.
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