In a second-grade classroom at Finley Road Elementary School, visitors from Taiwan stopped by to talk to students about their culture and winter holidays.
The next week, the students video-chatted with a young woman who lives in Jerusalem. That same morning, a mother of a student stopped by to talk about how her family throws a birthday party for Jesus every year.
Carrie Gaffney, who has taught for eight years, said the holiday season presents a perfect time to delve deeper into state social studies standards and expose her students to new topics and cultures.
“I would prefer for them to be knowledgeable about all areas and be accepting of everyone,” said Gaffney, who has worked to teach her students about such diverse traditions as Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and the Chinese New Year, which falls at the end of January this year.
Using contacts and social media, Gaffney invited guest speakers to teach her students – either in person or by video chat – about their traditions. One of those speakers was Julie Faulkenberry, whose son, Ty, is in Gaffney’s class. She has spoken to classes before about how her family celebrates Christmas.
In their house, she told the students, there’s no Santa Claus.
“At Christmas at our house, we make a birthday cake,” Faulkenberry said. “We have a big, huge birthday party.”
She shared the story of the nativity and talked about how each of her three sons gets three presents because “if three was enough for the baby Jesus, three is enough for them,” referencing the three gifts the wise men brought to Bethlehem.
“It’s neat that we share what we do,” Faulkenberry said, because children should learn about all types of holiday traditions.
On Wednesday afternoon, as they video-chatted with a woman 6,300 miles away in Jerusalem, the students asked questions about Hanukkah, looking for the kinds of foods eaten, games played and decorations.
Sarah Pollack, a student at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, told Gaffney’s students about Hanukkah in Jerusalem. This year, Hanukkah was celebrated Nov. 27-Dec. 5.
Gaffney’s class spends time during each holiday lesson discussing the similarities among different kinds of celebrations.
“Sometimes it’s not easy for us to see what’s the same,” Gaffney said, “so I hope all of this shows them that we’re all really not that different.”
At least students said they were glad to learn about different holidays and religions.
“We all celebrate something,” said Leslie Griffin.
Classmate Ryan Scruggs said it is important to learn about other cultures because if you don’t, you won’t get good grades and you “won’t know cool stuff.”
While Ryan said his favorite holiday element to learn about was “flaming pudding,” Leslie said she thought learning about Hanukkah showed her something “neat.”
“I thought it was interesting how they put the menorah in front of their house because at my house, we put our Christmas tree in the window,” she said. “It’s the same.”
Rachel Southmayd • 803-329-4072