‘Senior Secret Santa’ delivers gifts, cheer to homes of nearly 100 Apollo-Ridge students

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Apollo-Ridge School District’s Senior Secret Santa didn’t circle the world in a supersonic sleigh, but he covered 220 miles Friday in a four-wheel drive SUV delivering gifts to the district’s 96 high school seniors.

Apollo-Ridge High School Principal Dan Consuegra donned the outfit of the jolly old elf to serve as the Senior Secret Santa — but he couldn’t keep his identity a secret for long.

“Is that my principal?” asked Apollo-Ridge senior Mira Bernat when she opened the front door of her North Apollo home Friday morning and saw Consuegra.

Bernat was wowed by the gifts given to her, which were “pretty cool and cool that some were made by parents and small businesses.”

Each senior received a custom T-shirt imprinted with the slogan, “Some have a story, we made history, Class of 2021.” They also got a custom Apollo-Ridge water bottle and tree ornament, candy, hot chocolate mix, a toy, a gift certificate for a free medium pizza at Fox’s Pizza Den in Kiski Township’s Spring Church section and the essential ChapStick.

Bernat said it also was a gift to see Consuegra and three teachers accompanying him who dressed as elves and reindeer. Apollo-Ridge students have been learning remotely since just before Thanksgiving.

“Mr. Consuegra is an involved principal who comes to the classroom, and today he had supportive things to tell me,” Bernat said.

Consuegra said he was trying to create an enjoyable memory for the students.

“It’s a tough year for the seniors, for what would be their most memorable year. It will be memorable, but not in the way they had hoped,” Consuegra said.

Parents and school personnel made the Senior Secret Santa’s delivery happen. The district’s transportation experts, the same ones who figure out the bus routes, plotted Consuegra’s route to reach all seniors in the 70-square-mile district, which includes Armstrong County’s Apollo, North Apollo and Kiski Township and Indiana County’s Young Township.

Bernat’s mother, Tara Bernat, was among parents who pitched in.

“We’ve been watching our students suffer with everything canceled in their senior year,” she said. “We thought about what we could do to combat this and contacted the principal and pitched the Senior Secret Santa.”

Securing the gifts took about a month of approaching and working with local businesses that kicked in donations and services for the gifts, Tara Bernat said.

“It’s a close-knit community, and they know what these students and everyone is going through,” she said.

The challenge was to keep the Santa operation secret, she added.

“I’m grateful and thankful there are people that make these kind of things happen in the face of adversity,” she said, “and to do something that is good for the kids.”

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, mthomas@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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