Thanksgiving day dinner at school

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(Host) Commentator Judith Schwartz reflects on children, community and giving thanks.

(Schwartz) It’s one of the highlights of the school year: the Community Thanksgiving. First the children make pies – they smell cinnamon all day – along with cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and stuffing – a favorite among middle-schoolers, who prove their grit cutting onions without tears.

My son attends Hiland Hall, an independent school in Bennington. A few houses from the Robert Frost museum and down the road from Norman Rockwell’s studio, it retains the spirit of the one-room-schoolhouse: 28 children from near toddlers to near-teens learn together under the tutelage of principle Jessica Howard. It’s also where I gained a new appreciation for Thanksgiving.

For me, Thanksgiving had become merely a fixture on the calendar. Then came Thanksgiving lunch. Brendan insisted that I take time off work to attend. And when he led me to the placecard he had so lovingly crayoned for me, I realized how much he had taken ownership in an event I had barely noted. The children truly were the hosts.

This year, Brendan was competent enough in the kitchen to take a younger boy, Jacob, under his wing and teach him how to wield the potato ricer. My seven-year-old enjoyed the chance to be the big kid.

Many would question the wisdom of taking school time to cook. Principal Howard explains: “Cooking teaches practical and social skills, culture, math – fractions were invented for sharing.” Plus chemistry: “We looked at yeast under the microscope, and it trembled.” Ultimately, education is about making meaning from experience.

This is a valuable reminder for every educator – and every parent.

This annual ritual is meaningful in many ways. It evokes the original sentiment of Thanksgiving as a community event. It instills togetherness among families; the more families engage with a school, the more they support education.

The event begins with a moment of silence. Principal Howard expresses thanks that the children, the families, and the school are thriving. The message of thankfulness spreads outward, rippling like water.

What am I thankful for? Well, for one thing, I’m thankful that at a time when many children require continual electronic stimulation, my son’s school recognizes the value of hands-on learning, which prepares students to be engaged citizens, not mere consumers. It’s given me a fresh perspective on myself as well. It’s easy to think your own work is too important to set aside for simple tasks. I’m a decent calligrapher, and now I’m sometimes asked to draw charts for the school while nearby, students do their projects, humming away. So I offer my own thanks for being part of it all.

The circle breaks up. There’s no time to waste; afternoon lessons await. But first everyone lines up to sample the children’s fine cuisine.

I’m Judy Schwartz of Bennington.

(Host) Judith D. Schwarz writes about psychology and family matters.

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