Wishful thinking: How leaders decide gifts


Julia Marques da Silva, Design Director

Senior Aminah Narkiewicz wonders why, with her family struggling financially, her request for a gift wasn’t
granted. She saw that her brother, Paul, was having a tough time and wished for him to receive a small gift to cheer him up. But while filling out the Google Form for Winter Wishes, Narkiewicz didn’t disclose all of the details of what’s going on at home and ultimately didn’t get her wish granted for her brother. Senior Lance Northup, Narkiewicz’s boyfriend, has seen their difficulties first hand.

“He saw all these other people getting their wishes granted, when seemingly they’re going through nothing,” he said. “I’m not saying that’s wrong. I’m saying there are people with actual problems at home, and they don’t get their wishes granted for some reason.”

Their concerns with how the Leadership class chooses its gift recipients echo those of other students who messaged the Bear Witness asking the same thing.

Winter Wishes, now in its eighth year, has become an institution for the Branham community. The rally has grown from one rally to two in the gym, and has raised thousands of dollars for students in need. Students who’ve attended past rallies expect to cry and to cheer on their fellow classmates.

Many also leave the rally asking why a student received a seemingly disproportionate gift in relation to their situation, while others received nothing. Or how it seemed to them that close friends of the Leadership class were usually the ones receiving gifts at the rally. The answer from Activities Director Christina Hillman, who oversees the class: There’s some truth to that, but it’s not as simple as favoritism.

To help others better understand their decision-making, Hillman and others in the Leadership class have walked the Bear Witness through the steps in getting a wish granted.

Starting with a Google Form
First, the Leadership class asks all of the staff and students in October to fill out a Google Form asking what wish they want. Many usually wish for someone else. Some of questions on the survey ask if students qualify for free-reduced lunch and, most importantly, why their wish should get granted. Hillman screens each of the wishes beforehand. With the help of the Executive Board, each wish in categorized into different categories, those being food, AP tests, free wishes, other small wishes, staff wishes, medium wishes and potential big wishes. Possible big wishes are determined whether a wish is possible, if Leadership has sufficient funds to grant it and if the story behind it is compelling.

Team placement
After wishes are screened and categorized by Hillman and the Executive Board, Leadership students are placed into 15 teams of four students. Each team receives one big wish and nine smaller wishes to grant. For smaller wishes, groups are given broad categories, like a specific food, and grant the wishes that fall into the category. Once they are assigned to the wishes, Hillman shares the rest of the information, such as the name of the person, to the teams, so they can research more about what they can do for each wish.

Identifying information is left out
However, a lot of students don’t realize that only Hillman looks at the raw answers and removes names and ID numbers in order to eliminate as much bias as possible when Leadership students are choosing their wishes. Senior Emmalyn McCarthy remembers looking through the packet and clarifies that there isn’t any way to know which student granted for what wish.
“We (only) see what they wish for and what category it’s under,” she said. “From there, groups are assigned wishes to grant and the groups decide what they are putting into each wish.”

Difficulties in removing bias
While there are some protective measures to deter favoritism, Leadership does acknowledge that it’s impossible to remove all bias from wish-granting. Students do hear about what other students have wished and have heard some of people’s circumstances, which can align to some of the big wishes. The class is aware of the criticisms, but eliminating bias as much as possible is a difficult task. Some members of the class even have concerns about which big wishes are chosen.

“You can definitely tell when other people are picking wishes for their friends because they will know that their friend wished for
that,” a Leadership student that wished to remain anonymous said. “But it’s completely on who the person is.”

‘We are helping people’

When Leaders looking through the wishes that have passed the screening process, Hillman gives them reminders that their
goal is to help people throughout the school.

“I have those conversations with my students multiple times,” said Hillman. “We shouldn’t be granting wishes because they’re our friends. We are granting wishes because we are helping people.”

Hillman believes that any possible bias comes from students who share their wish, which is something that is out of Leadership’s control.

However, they are seeking to find new ways to create a better process to grant wishes and encourage students to voice any concerns they may have about the event, such as get a group of adults to help Hillman screen wishes before they are introduced to the class.But ultimately the goal of Winter Wishes to help the students of Branham and to create a better school community for all of its students and staff.

“For the majority of the students in ASB, their goal is to serve the school and make Branham a better place,” said Hillman.
“They do the best that they can and work incredibly hard.”