Western Pennsylvania Charter School commemorates diverse traditions

Pupils study winter holidays

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Although the school opened only 15 months ago, students at Young Scholars of Western Pennsylvania Charter School have found time to establish a holiday tradition -- one that honors other holiday traditions.

The Second Annual International Winter Celebration will be held from 12:45 to 3:15 p.m. today at the school at 600 Newport Drive in Baldwin Township. The public is invited.

Each classroom was assigned a winter holiday tradition to study -- and celebrate: winter solstice, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, Chinese New Year, Hanukkah, Three Kings Day, Eid-al-Adha and Christmas and New Year's Eve.

Students will present what they learned from 12:45 to 2:15 p.m. in an assembly. Then classroom tours will be given from 2:30 to 3:15 p.m.

Principal Alpaslan Ozdogan said the event is in keeping with the international environment fostered for the two student constituencies: nonnative American English speakers and native speakers seeking a curriculum that fosters a global perspective.

The holidays reflect the various cultures of the 180-student body in grades K-6.

"Besides learning about theirs and others' holidays, it helps the kids know something about their friends and other families," he said.

For example, the first grade will recognize Kwanzaa, with each student appearing on stage reciting a fact about the celebration. Students will sing the traditional African song of welcome, "Funga Alafia."

Kwanzaa is a weeklong celebration from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 of family, community and African heritage in African-American culture.

Teacher Ashley Kint said the event fosters awareness and tolerance for others' cultures.

"It opens students' minds and lets them learn and respect traditions and not just in our small part of the world," she said.

Fourth-graders will mark Three Kings Day -- named for the three wise men who traveled to meet the Christ child -- and which, in Spanish, is called Dia de los Reyes. It is observed Jan. 6 in Mexico, Spain, Cuba and other Latin American countries.

Students learned that its customs include surprising children with treats and toys in their shoes and baking round, sweet bread made with orange blossom water and butter.

The youngsters decorated their classroom with cut-outs of animals and other designs fashioned from bright-colored paper.

They also will perform a traditional Mexican dance to the Mexican hat dance song, with the girls encouraged to wear traditional long, flowing skirts.

"The value is allowing them to see different celebrations and cultures coming together," instructor Heather Sprys said. "There are not just a couple of holidays, but many more do exist and we need to learn about and accept them."

Other holidays that were studied:

• Boxing Day, the day following Christmas Day, is when, tradition holds, tradespeople received gifts from their employers. Germany and some eastern European and Scandinavian countries call this day Second Christmas; in Ireland it is known at St. Stephen's, and South Africans call it Day of Goodwill.

• Eid or eid-al-Adha is a religious day for Muslims that recalls the willingness of the prophet Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of submission to God. It is celebrated in the last month of the year.

• Hanukkah, also known as festival of lights, is an eight-day Jewish holiday in December commemorating rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem when wicks of the menorah, a candelabrum, burned for eight days even though there was enough oil for only one day.

• Winter solstice, Dec. 21-22, is an astronomical and cultural event that marks the beginning of winter and is the shortest day of year -- even as it marks the date from which the amount of daylight time starts to get longer.

• Christmas is the day Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Sixth grade also will celebrate New Year's Eve, a traditional time of "out with the old, in with the new." They will hold a countdown to end the assembly. Students also will toss confetti and shake noisemakers as is done in celebrations all over the world.

"It will be a great way for them to feel a sense of leadership," teacher Laurel Newberry said of student planning and participation.

She said the event is especially meaningful in light of our culturally diverse country.

"It is important for kids to recognize and accept the different cultures and traditions," she said. "It is also nice that they can look around the classroom and see kids who might celebrate these."

For more information on the school: www.yswpcs.org.


Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com


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