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DCPS classrooms teach Thanksgiving on their own terms

As the leaves change colors with the beginning of the fall season, excitement about the winter holidays sets in. Whether it be through eating turkeys and pies, watching a parade, or simply reflecting on what they’re thankful for, Thanksgiving is celebrated every year by almost every American. Many elementary school classrooms use the holiday to celebrate gratefulness and family relationships instead of focusing on the holiday’s controversial history.

At Murch Elementary School, Thanksgiving is taught with a focus on family relationships. Chris Cebrynski, Murch’s principal, said, “The students are asked to bring in a photo of them with their families, showing something they celebrate together.” These photos are framed and hung up around the gym so everyone can view the variety of ways families celebrate the holiday.

Each family also brings a dish for a grade-wide potluck where everyone gathers to celebrate what they are thankful for and share their food and traditions with other families. Before the potluck, the entire school comes together in the gym and the second grade students perform songs and short stories about holidays all over the world. “It’s a Murch tradition that has been carried on for years and one that families remember for a lifetime,” said Cebrynski.

In the kindergarten classrooms at Murch, the children read many books about the history of Thanksgiving, and make a class “thankful turkey,” which students contribute to by decorating and writing on a feather what they are thankful for. They also have a classroom “Family Feast” where parents bring in their children’s favorite foods. “We will all eat together, do some fun Thanksgiving themed crafts and games, and then perform our songs. A fun way to be together as a classroom community right before the holiday,” said Alicia Garfinkel, kindergarten teacher at Murch.

Similar to Murch, at Janney Elementary School, Thanksgiving is taught with a focus on gratefulness rather than the history of the holiday. Teachers often read picture books to engage the children while teaching about Thanksgiving. “At the younger grades, this involves minimal details on the historical origins of Thanksgiving. The books are geared more toward present day celebration of family coming together,” said Lelia Spears, co-teacher at Janney.

At Bancroft Elementary School, the students have an all school assembly where the fifth graders present what they are thankful for. Arthur Mola, principal of Bancroft, said, “they honored their teachers and their families, and they honored members of the staff that served in the U.S. armed forces.”

DCPS teachers are free to teach Thanksgiving and other holidays with their own approach, as long as they follow the DC Social Studies Standards. “I have taught in many different settings and states and I’ve never been given specific guidelines on what or how to teach Thanksgiving,” said Spears.

At Bancroft, the teachers make sure to avoid portraying Native Americans incorrectly. “We are careful and thoughtful about ensuring that the way it is taught does not disrespect the dignity of indigenous people,” said Mola. •

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