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In early grades, Thanksgiving is a jumping point for critical lessons

In early grades, Thanksgiving is a jumping point for critical lessons

For young students, Thanksgiving serves up lessons about the value of tradition and difference
In early grades, Thanksgiving is a jumping point for critical lessons
Second grade teacher Kristelle Everts assists student Price Lanthrop-West with his Thanksgiving project.
Photographer: Marc Schultz / Gazette Photographer

First and second grade students are thankful for a lot: their teachers, their families, their classmates, themselves and, for some, their grandma’s cooking.

Some students are thankful for the more natural things in life, too.

“I’m thankful for trees, because they give us oxygen,” said Prince Lanthrop-West, a second grader at Yates Elementary School in Schenectady.

A first grade student at Birchwood Elementary School in Niskayuna echoed a similar sentiment about the importance of nature and her gratitude for it.

“I am thankful for the animals in the spring,” said Charlotte Blair, a Birchwood first grader. “Because I love nature.”

Henry Meyers, also a Birchwood first grader, said he was grateful for a reclining chair in the woods.

“It’s kind of relaxing, because you’re laying down outside,” Henry said.

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Photos by Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer

For students in the earliest grades, Thanksgiving is about more than just “What I’m thankful for” Turkey arts and crafts. The holiday serves as a way for teachers to surface lessons about critical life skills and basic values. From gratitude to tradition and culture, students not only learn about the fundamental differences between families, but are also taught to value and appreciate those differences.

“We’re letting kids see how holidays look different in every home,” said Carrie White, a Yates teacher who splits her time between three different classes. “We’re really focusing on how it looks different and that’s ok and understanding how we all celebrate in different ways.”

Sharing their plans and their family holiday traditions, students have a chance to see how everyone can celebrate the holiday in a different way as teachers emphasize that all those different traditions have value.

“It lets them be proud of who they are and their culture and their family,” White said. “(It’s about) being open to differences and celebrating differences.”

In Kristelle Everts’ second grade Yates classroom, the holidays continue into December as the class learns about Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas. The December lessons will continue to emphasize how customs and traditions vary from culture to culture and from family to family within the same culture, Everts said.

“I think it’s fun to learn how everyone celebrates at home,” said White, who teaches in Everts’ room for part of the day.

Second grade students at Brichwood spent Monday morning rotating through different activities, preparing for a grade-wide feast on Tuesday morning. The students peeled apples to make applesauce, created handcrafted necklaces, drew multi-colored corns and made headdresses.

“It’s a nice way to come together to do something special, to show everyone can be grateful,” Birchwood first grade teacher Allison Cappiello said. “We base it all around being thankful and what they are thankful for.”

In the days and weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, teachers connect writing, reading and arts lessons to the holiday. Cappiello’s students flexed their writing skills with short descriptions of the things they that make them thankful.

“They really are just learning to be little people,” Cappiello said. “The whole first grade theme is positivity.”

The first grade classes all gathered together Tuesday for a Thanksgiving feast replete with corn and pumpkin muffins, fruit salad, classroom-made applesauce and apple cider. Scores of parents joined as well.

“We talk a lot about what does it look like at your house,” said Ashley Mastrianni, who also teaches first grade at Birchwood. “Everyone’s traditions might look a little bit different.”

At Yates on Monday, students circled up on their classroom rug to share what makes them thankful. Second grader Jaiyden Curtis made sure to note one last thing everyone in the class should be thankful for.

“I’m thankful for Mrs. Everts and soldiers,” he said.

“Soldiers, why are you thankful for soldiers,” Everts asked.

“Because they help people,” he said.

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