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Wilson Elementary kids get course in making of great feast

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
November 24, 2010
— Kids cooked their own Thanksgiving feast at Janesville's Wilson School on Monday.

For some, it was a new experience.


Second-grade teachers found a lack of Turkey Day knowledge when they discussed the holiday with their students recently.


"We said, ‘what are you having for your Thanksgiving meal,'" recalled teacher Jen Drach. "Some said French fries. Another kid said chicken nuggets. So a lot of them haven't had the exposure to the traditional Thanksgiving meal.


"The saddest part was when we asked about sweet potatoes. Only two or three kids raised their hands," she added. "Even when we ask ‘who do you get together with,' ‘who do you celebrate with?' it's like a day like any other for a lot of them. They don't understand that. But the more we talk about it, the more they get into it."


Drach told some of her neighbors what the kids had said. They suggested preparing a feast at school, and soon they were taking days off of work to help.


Teachers had done this in the past, but it was dropped over the years because it was such a big production, Drach said. The volunteers made the job easier.


So on Monday, kids learned how to make cranberry sauce and seven-layer salad. They took turns mashing potatoes. They even churned butter.


Kids seemed to relish the hands-on experience, although one made a sour face as he backed away from the mayonnaise jar.


Maranyelly Pence said she liked mashing best. Caddan Callahan said he liked all the shaking that went into the butter-making. Brooklyn Watters said she liked making applesauce, "because I got to stir."


Drach said she doesn't know why the kids knew so little about the feast. Perhaps the tradition has not been passed down the generations in some families, she said. Perhaps it's a matter of being able to afford it. Most of Wilson students live in poverty, according to district statistics.


Drach said a couple students were homeless recently, "so I don't think it's a high priority for the parents of some of my students."


Karen Lisser of the ECHO charity noted that 1,100 needy families received a turkey and fixings at the annual Thanksgiving distribution on Saturday. She suggested that some families might not make Thanksgiving into an event that would stick in a young child's memory.


"They have so many stresses in their lives because of poverty," Lisser said.


Wilson Principal Becky Bicha noted that different families have different ways of marking holidays, and Wilson embraces them all.


"This is just a great opportunity for them to share in this custom, even if it might not be their family's custom," Bicha said.


The kids also learned about the Pilgrims and Wompanoag tribe, whose feast in the fall of 1621 is the precursor to the modern holiday.


One student noted that the first Thanksgiving included three days of eating and playing. He suggested that Wilson School do the same.


That idea didn't fly, but the kids, teachers and volunteers sat down Monday to a feast they all helped prepare.



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