Students celebrate holidays around the world

Michelle Anstett

The inside of Cooke Elementary School was transformed into an international airport terminal Tuesday night as students, parents and friends bustled from one country to another.

“We will take off in five minutes!” Principal Jean Brown called down the hall after droves of people passed her, clutching passports. “Have a great flight!”

As part of the school’s social studies curriculum, each grade level chose a different country to study for three weeks. Students read books, did research projects and immersed themselves as much as possible in the holiday traditions of each country.

Leeanne Scherpe’s second-grade class studied Mexico, crafting paper garlands that hung from the ceiling. They studied legends and stories popular in Mexico, including a legend involving the poinsettia plant, which led the students to create their own paper flowers to paste up on the wall.

“We have several Hispanic students in our class,” Scherpe said. “I thought (Mexico) would be a country they’re most familiar with.”

Guests were served salsa and chips, hot chocolate, wedding cookies and noodles as they listened to festive music. Gathering around a giant crepe-paper sombrero, Scherpe’s students performed a basic hat dance, eventually involving their parents and other spectators.

“We like to correlate everything,” Brown said of the development of the 5-year-old holiday program. “We think that children learn more by doing. The teachers want to step back and let the children tell the parents” what they have learned in class. She said programs such as Tuesday’s Holidays around the World allow that interaction to happen.

In Michelle Golden’s fourth-grade class, students studied Puerto Rico and prepared reports on aspects of its culture, government and holiday traditions. Tanya Skinner’s kindergarten class read books about Australian animals, growing fascinated by wombats, kangaroos and koalas. The students were surprised to learn that the Australian Santa wears swimwear and carries a surfboard because Christmas in the southern hemisphere falls during the summer.

“It was hard for them to understand that it’s hot there (at Christmastime),” Skinner said. Her students couldn’t comprehend why Christmas meals can take the form of picnics, and why Australian children do not play in the snow.

While studying German holiday traditions, Katie Ruehmer’s first-grade class read stories involving gingerbread, such as the “Gingerbread Boy.” The class also read the print version of the Nutcracker ballet, focusing on candles as decoration on trees instead of electric lights.

The special education students studied American traditions, and their presentation included a visit from Santa Claus. Jodi Johnson’s third-grade class studied France, learning that Pere Noel, the French Santa, has a sidekick named Pere Fouettard who carries an armful of switches to give to bad little boys and girls.

But while each country studied was different, the common theme was the children’s desire to explore new cultures, from the decorations hung on the walls to the foods served.

“We just try to make sure that everything (at Cooke) is child-centered,” said Brown. “From kindergarten through fifth grade, everyone had an input in (the project).”

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