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Holidays around the world

December 22, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Not a dreidel is left unspun, nor a kinara is left unlit as schools across the Tri-State work to include a variety of religions and customs into a holiday mix that will not only keep children focused on their studies, but also will help keep them focused on the spirit of the season - giving.

Many schools in Washington County focus on a Christmas around the World theme as they move toward winter break, said JoEtta Palkovitz-Brown, Washington County Public Schools' executive director of elementary education.

She said at Salem Avenue Elementary School in Hagerstown, wooden shoes and dreidels sit beneath a tree.

"It's an exciting way to talk about songs, foods and what's involved in celebrations," she said.

But Jim Taylor, Chambersburg Area School District assistant superintendent for elementary services, said perhaps the most impressive part about the weeks leading up to Christmas is that teachers try to emphasize to their students that it's better to give rather than to receive.

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"I like to hear about our schools giving back to the community," he said.

Donna Shives, regional principal for Hamilton Heights Elementary School and Gordy Elementary School in Chambersburg, said children there love giving to their neighbors.

She said teachers found that parents aren't always able to buy presents for other children under the guise of a traditional Christmas party, but she said students and their parents are much more willing to donate food, clothing or money to families that need them around the holidays.

In Washington County, Palkovitz-Brown said many of the system's elementary school student councils coordinate those types of community service projects.

But the school systems also are careful not to call the season Christmas. The Christian holiday is not celebrated district-wide in Chambersburg schools, Taylor said.

He said Parent Teacher Associations and individual schools are responsible for designating parties at Christmastime, but he said schools are held to a School Board policy that limits the number of parties they may hold a year to about two.

Taylor said he believes it's best to give schools the authority to make decisions regarding Christmas observances, which he said can serve as an educational opportunity.

"It's an opportunity to learn about different cultures and the different emotions of cultures," he said.

"The teachers are sensitive to the parents and our schools are sensitive to the community," said Sherry Hetzel, coordinator of elementary education for Jefferson County Schools.

She said a student might create art with a religious symbol drawn upon it, but "our teachers don't encourage it."

Christmas discussion usually is more of a mix between history and customs, she said.

Children shouldn't feel excluded if they celebrate a holiday other than Christmas, she said, which is why teachers ensure that there is a balance of religions represented, if any at all, at holiday parties.

"I really believe we are inclusive of all religions," she said.

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