Celebrating Christmas in the classroom
Is it the "holiday season" or "Christmas time?" Well, that may just depend on where you go to school. At Park City Academy, whose mission statement says it is "an independent school that embraces Christian principles and values," Christmas is celebrated in the classroom.
However, that same mission statement goes on to say the academy "welcomes a diverse community of students and faculty," and the school’s vision statement also states, "We respect and value differences among all people and seek to create a school community of diverse religious, racial, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds."
But how can a school do both? According to the Head of School, Charles Sachs, it is possible.
"I think it really comes down to the fact that we’re very upfront as to what we do and don’t do," he said. "We continue to use Christian principles as the touchstone in our effort to integrate it into the academic program, but not so much that it overwhelms academics are first and foremost."
Susan Radtke, director of community outreach, agrees. "I think it’s possible for us to have moral and ethical teachings of Christianity and still welcome people of different religions and cultures joyfully into our community," she said.
Sachs said the school is not a homogenous community made up solely of Christian students; other beliefs systems, like Judaism or even Atheism, are represented at the school.
"What we promote is a safe, healthy and morally-positive environment, which I think is what is most important to our families," he said. "We’re not here to indoctrinate anybody."
The school will be sending out cards with student art on the covers that say "Merry Christmas." Radtke said receiving a Christmas card shouldn’t be taken as offensive. "It is the same as if I sent out Hanukah cards," she said. "We can celebrate all traditions; we don’t need to water them down."
At Park City Academy, the students are allowed to decorate their room and a tree in Christmas decorations, and on Friday, Dec. 14, at 6:30 p.m., the whole school will come together for a Christmas program in multi-purpose room.
"It’s just a really sweet way for everyone to come together and sing songs from our childhood," Radtke said.
"You don’t need to be so obsessively politically correct," Sachs said. "Unlike public schools that take it all away and make it very generic, we take the opposite perspective that is who we are."
For the students and faculty of Park City Academy, celebrating Christmas in school is great. "It’s really a blessing," preschool teacher Sarah Britton said, "because it is such a part of their world at Christmas time; it’s all they can think about, so to have the opportunity to have Christmas in the classroom is really neat."
Using this opportunity, Britton has created some unique play opportunities like a station for wrapping presents and a Christmas baking area where the kids can play with scented play dough and make cutout "cookies."
The preschoolers also learned about the gingerbread man who ran away. They made real gingerbread men and then went on a scavenger hunt throughout the school to see where they had run to. "The kids found them sleeping under our Christmas tree," Britton said. "Then they got to decorate them and take them home, although some had a few bites taken out."
Older students are celebrating Christmas through service projects. Seventh-grade teacher Jessica Fields said it’s rewarding for her to see the kids get excited and expose themselves to what the holiday spirit is all about giving. "The nature of Christmas is really practiced here," she said.
Seventh-grade student Ben Bellford said they’ve done a lot of service projects already, and they’re doing more in the future. "We sent food and supplies to soldiers in Iraq. It felt good to do something to help them," he said. "We’re also going to go and sing at the old-age home."
Seventh-grader Nate Kintner said being at school is more like Christmas because "you’re giving and not just getting. Usually you only give stuff to your own family and you just celebrate with them, but by doing projects like these, we are broadening it to celebrate with other people."
For Sidney Blake, also in seventh grade, having Christmas at school is fun. "It just feels more like the holiday season, and you get to celebrate with your friends and teachers," she said.
Fourth-grade teacher Andy Theis thinks this incredible. "It’s a way of prolonging the season by being able to start celebrating in school. It makes it that much more special."
Fourth-grader Lauren Macritchie said it’s fun having Christmas in the classroom. "We got to decorate the tree and the walls," she said.
For fourth-grader Max Hedding, it’s fun because they get to do secret Santa. "On the last day before Christmas break we get to guess who our secret Santa is," he said.
Theis said he plans to look at the holiday traditions of other cultures like Kwanzaa and Hanukkah this Friday in class.
Kindergarten teacher Marlene Naftz said that, while she used to work in public schools, she has been working at Park City Academy and celebrating Christmas in the classroom for 15 years. "I think it adds fun and excitement to the classroom. We talk about Santa coming and Jesus being born," she said. "We have a lot more freedom."
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