The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

November 28, 2013

Bringing the holiday tradition into the classroom

Schools teach Thanksgiving various ways

By Amy Kent
Herald Staff Writer

---- — CLINTON — Holiday traditions have always been important lessons for students to learn in school, but as times change, there is a level of sensitivity needed to navigate those lessons.

For local educators, the ability to adhere to being politically correct about Thanksgiving is not as difficult as some might think.

“Thanksgiving is a lot easier to stay with the tradition, a lot easier to keep engrained in history,” Camanche Elementary School Principal Neil Gray said.

Students at Camanche elementary still participate in classroom Thanksgiving meals dressed as Native Americans and pilgrims, surrounded by decorations of turkeys. But, not all of the area’s schools follow that same curriculum.

“We like to stay pretty steep into the tradition, history and culture of Thanksgiving,” Gray said.

The standard in which the history of Thanksgiving is taught remains the same, but some schools have strayed away from the fun and carefree experiences of school during the holidays, and now use that time to teach different lessons to their students.

In adapting to the ever-changing classroom requirements with Common Core stipulations, Clinton School District teachers are working to teach the story of the pilgrims and Native Americans in practical and real-life ways for their students.

“We’ve really tried to get away from the arts and crafts type of things,” Clinton Curriculum Director John Jorgensen said. “Now, Thanksgiving is used as a vehicle to teach our kids a set of skills and standards that we want our kids to learn.”

To accomplish this, teachers work to develop lesson plans that encourage students to express themselves and their feelings about the holiday season.

“We have kids that are reading about Thanksgiving, but they’re recording facts about gourds and Indian corn; they’re doing fluency and expression, reading poems about Thanksgiving. In high school Economics, they are discussing the tradition of Thanksgiving dinner in relation to poverty and hunger in the United States and talking about Black Friday and how it plays on a holiday and plays to people’s emotions,” Jorgensen said.

But not all area lesson plans are based on one side or the other. Teachers at Fulton Elementary School have worked on establishing a way to teach the cultural impact of Thanksgiving and keep the lessons light and fun for students.

“I don’t know if it has changed that drastically,” Fulton Elementary School Principal Liz Clark said. “There’s a more hands-on approach and real-life applications, but we still have pretty traditional activities.”

Some teachers at Fulton Elementary School used Thanksgiving as a time to teach students about budgeting money when grocery shopping, using math skills to find the best deals and how coupons can help with all of that.

Other teachers discussed about what resources were used to create the first Thanksgiving dinner, and how those resources can still be used today.

“It’s all really student centered and about making connections from back then to today,” Clark said.