SAN JOSE -- One girl asked for help with her mother's rent. Several students requested laptop computers. And one student wanted to be able to tell the whole school about her experience as a bullying victim.
In Branham High tradition, the entire school played Santa and granted wishes, ranging from the silly to the serious. At the Friday morning Make-A-Wish rally, chattering stopped as a gym full of students listened raptly to their classmates' heartfelt wishes, then erupted in cheers for the smiling and sometimes tearful recipients.
Since 2011, Branham has asked every student and teacher to hand in a wish in the fall, and student leaders have researched, discussed and culled them.
"There's always a need at our school," Activities Director Larry Lopez said. More than one-fifth of the school's 1,400 students are from low-income families.
For many, the wishes were small: a venti mocha Frappuccino, no whip; a Panda Express meal; In-N-Out burgers. Those, and several no-cost ones -- a hug from a special someone, flowers from a certain football player -- were granted by teams from student government popping into classes over several weeks to make wishes come true.
Student leaders also handed out items near-essential to high school life, such as prom tickets.
Although they granted about 100 wishes, most could not be fulfilled, of course. The toughest part was in sorting out the wishes, getting insight into student need from teachers, the school counselor and sometimes family members, said student body Treasurer Alec Zawacki, 17. Over two months, he and others in the leadership class raised about $8,000 in cash and in-kind donations.
"More than half the wishes wouldn't have been possible to grant if it weren't for people outside Branham," he said.
Earlier this fall, the school staged an auction of donated goods and offers, such as homemade pastries and coffee for four friends, to raise Make-A-Wish funds. The most popular item was one academic department's offering to drop a bidder's lowest test score in calculating grades -- that went for more than $800.
Teachers not only donate, but they make wishes as well. One pregnant teacher received a gift certificate for a local baby store; another got a hotel stay for her honeymoon.
But the most poignant wishes come from students, several asking for help for classmates or family members. "I want my mom to be stress-free," one boy wrote.
It's gratifying to be able to grant wishes and to meet genuine need, Alec said.
When Susheel Bola spoke about overcoming depression, after being ostracized by girls she had thought were her friends, Branham's gym felt silent. She urged students to combat bullying. "It had me choked up," said Alec, who said he never imagined what the person he saw every day had endured. She imparted an important message, he said: "I'm hoping it will reach a lot of students here."
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.