To many of the students at Central Elementary School in Portage, Nicole Slack is a bit of a Santa Claus. Of course, in reality, the students see her as the School Advisor who leads them in daily “Mindful Moments.” And occasionally she comes into their classrooms to teach Mind Up, a curriculum to teach children how their brains work, how they can calm themselves, and how that all ultimately impacts their education. Much like the real St. Nick, however, Slack is busy behind the scenes making sure that students in need will have a happy Christmas.
Every November and December, Slack works with local community members and agencies who “adopt” a student and purchase needed gifts, ensuring a joyful Christmas morning.
“Seeing the kids come back after Christmas break and seeing them wear new clothes or having a new coat and hearing them talk about the gifts they received, it makes your heart happy to know that they were able to have a happy Christmas,” Slack said.
Like the real Santa Claus, Slack cannot provide gifts for all of the students.
“I’m so thankful and appreciative for the community’s support. Obviously our staff does what we can to help the kids but it takes a village. It takes our community coming together to provide resources for our families. I’d love to buy Christmas presents for every single kid in the school but I can’t, so I have to rely on the support from the community,” she said.
When Slack isn’t on Santa Claus duty, you will find her working or with her family. Born and raised in Portage, Slack and her husband chose to put down roots in their hometown, remaining close to extended family and offering their two sons the opportunity of living close to grandparents.
“I’ve always liked the community in Portage,” she said. “My family is here, and family is important to me. I wanted to be close to my family and for my kids to have close access to their grandparents. It feels like a small village and it’s nice to be close to my family. It’s what’s kept us here.”
Slack has always wanted to work with youth. Upon graduating, she attended Purdue University in West Lafayette, earning her bachelor’s degree in Child Development and Family Studies. She returned to Portage, first taking a position with Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana. When her first son was born, she transitioned into working within the school system, where she enjoys building relationships with the students and their families, bridging that gap between home and school to help students be the best that they can be.
“My favorite part of the day is being able to do classroom lessons and activities. You get to really know kids and build relationships with them. I enjoy getting to go in and have that fun time with them but also have them learn at the same time,” Slack said. “The most meaningful part of my job is building those relationships and knowing that I’m making a difference in their lives.”
As a mom to two very active boys, Slack finds much of her non-working hours taking her sons to and from sports activities and games.
“We’re either getting dinner somewhere or at a sporting event. That’s what my life consists of right now!” Slack joked.
But being so active with her sons’ sports activities truly makes Slack happy.
“Seeing the excitement on their faces and knowing how much they enjoy going to be with their friends and play on their teams is great. I’m a little competitive so I’m that mom cheering in the stands. We’ve made some really good friendships and we enjoy it,” she said.
Slack and her husband also enjoy traveling as a family, especially tropical places. Each year they take their children to new and exciting worlds like Costa Rica, or Aruba. As long as there is sunshine, Slack is happy.
“I love the sun and love to be in the sun as much as possible,” she said.
Either way, Slack finds a happy balance between work and play and encourages us all to do the same.
“Enjoy life! It’s important to remember to stop and to enjoy life. Life is short and you never know what’s going to happen. Take that time and be a little less busy,” she said.