Harmony Gooch, Janet Brunetti
Frosty the Snowman is in, while Santa is out. Here are two friends who work in the same school and have opposite viewpoints.
The role of schools is NOT to promote or celebrate holidays within the classroom, therefore how can schools take the joy of holiday celebrations away from students?
We don’t have holiday or birthday parties in my class. No secret Santas, no exchange of valentines; no decoration of pumpkins. When I was a new teacher I did all of this, yet I found it to be inequitable and an ineffective use of instructional minutes. If we celebrate one, how many other holidays should we celebrate? There’s Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Easter, Valentine’s, St. Patrick’s Day… if we do one, then we should celebrate them all, and it’s too much!
It’s a debate at my school, yet not an open one. Right now, every teacher does his or her own form of celebrating the holidays, and I often hear from my co-workers “another day wasted” or “you can’t do anything that day.” These statements sadden me, and I wish there were clearer guidelines around holiday expectations.
Schools should celebrate the joy of the seasons and leave the holidays at home with families where they belong. Celebrating the seasons allows the concept of joy and celebration without targeting holidays and all that comes with that politically, religiously and economically. Separation of church and state means we should see no symbols of religious holidays. School should also be free of commercialism, so we should not be promoting Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and anything else that requires goods to be purchased. You never know the economic background of your students or their families’ current financial needs or distress.
One debate (again, a silent one) is about the optional Halloween parade. I choose not to participate. Instead, we do education around the sugar amount in the Halloween candy students may consume that night and how much exercise it is going to take to burn it off. If our students want to wear a costume, that’s cool, but we make clear that there will be learning and a high level of academics happening on Halloween.
On Valentine’s Day we take the day to do one of our “character walks,” where students walk around the community picking up trash, learning about ecosystems, understanding our city’s history and showing “love” for their community. We don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. Students can wear red if they want to and can attend a Valentine’s Day Social after school hours.
We don’t celebrate birthdays. Now, mind you, I am not saying not to acknowledge it. Students get well-wishes on their birthday or special day from other students; special sunglasses may be worn, a quick song, and a homework token. Nothing more. I aim to turn everything into academics instead of having a party. Why have students waste precious instructional time having a party when they can do that at home?
When I tell parents I don’t celebrate birthdays and holidays, they may be taken aback at first, but they remain respectful of my request when I explain I want to use our classroom time for academics. It’s best to tell them in advance so they don’t waste their resources, time or money, and so the student is not disappointed by the day.
It can be hard for some teachers and even families who remember holiday celebrations when they were in school, and they think it’s expected and what we should do. However, with a new decade of rigorous standards, higher expectations for our students, and an accountability system for teachers, holiday celebrations do not belong in school.
Harmony Gooch is an eighth-grade health and history teacher at Wright Charter School in Santa Rosa and a member of the Wright Education Association.
We should include some traditions and celebrations in our curriculum. Holidays and traditions bring people together and make them feel good.
Holidays are part of the American culture. Our country is a melting pot with people from many different ethnicities and cultures, which should be celebrated. When we don’t observe holiday traditions, there’s something missing.
At our school we have an annual Halloween parade. I decorate for Halloween for fun, but give students educational holiday activities. For example, we read, learn facts and then write about bats. We read about the life cycle of pumpkins, make a model of the life cycle, and see firsthand how pumpkins grow from a seed to full ripeness in our school garden. We cut open a ripe pumpkin and count the seeds, roast and eat them. I ask parents to send in healthy treats like apple sauce, popcorn, fruit, etc. For those who don’t celebrate Halloween, there are alternative activities during the parade and classroom parties.
During the Christmas season we read about Santa and learn about the winter solstice, winter holiday traditions around the world, Jewish holidays, and Kwanzaa. We learn about the history of our holiday traditions. For example, putting up a Christmas tree comes from a tradition in Germany.
Writing a friendly letter is a standard in second grade, so we write letters to Santa. The children love doing this activity because they get to ask Santa about what they wish for Christmas. I require them to tell Santa their wish for something for the world. For example, besides asking Santa for a toy, my students have asked Santa for peace on Earth, to help feed everyone on the planet, to help endangered animals, and to keep the earth clean. Students learn how to address an envelope to be mailed, writing their own return address and Santa’s address at the North Pole. I have a Polar Express mailbox that says “ho, ho, ho” when they put their letters inside. When the students return from lunch, they find that the letters have magically disappeared from the mailbox and assume that it must have been Santa’s elves that picked them up.
We celebrate friendship on Valentine’s Day. Teachers need to teach social skills in school because it’s important to learn how to get along with others. Many second-graders struggle with learning which kinds of behavior lead to making and keeping friends, and which kinds of behavior makes it harder to make friendships. We do have a party on Valentine’s Day. If students choose to give out valentines, they must give one to every student in the class. Many of the students write notes to each other on their valentines. It’s the sweetest thing to see how ecstatic they are to see that someone has written them a personal note or given them a valentine with a fun message. They are more excited about the valentines than they are about the candy.
I believe that beauty, fun and family traditions all come together during the holidays, and children appreciate learning about them.
Janet Brunetti is a second-grade teacher at Wright Charter School in Santa Rosa and a member of the Wright Education Association.