La Cañada Elementary School fifth-graders reflected on gratitude Friday in an annual tradition designed to bookmark early American history lessons and connect the first Thanksgiving in 1621 between European settlers and members of the Wampanoag tribe to cultural traditions today.
Teacher and organizer Barb Drange said the Fifth-Grade Feast predates her 27 years at the school, but is a tradition most students, parents and staff members look forward to. It also helps students compare and contrast traditions they learned about in class with the ways families currently celebrate Thanksgiving.
“It’s not only that we study the beginnings of American history,” Drange said. “It also continues with cultural traditions of the United States.”
For the event, students dress in costumes and clothing inspired by what the pilgrims and Native Americans wore in the 17th century. Drange said students may not have been able to get their hands on authentic pieces but did study period dress among settlers and different tribes from that era.
Feasting together at Friday’s event, which opened with a song of gratitude and a moment of silence for individual reflections, were classmates Lauren Kim and Siena Babaian, who dressed as pilgrims, and Kiera Horne, who wore clothing reminiscent of Native American garb. They contemplated the meaning of Thanksgiving in 1621.
“[The first Thanksgiving] was when Native Americans and pilgrims came together and it was happy,” said Horne, who also explained her choice of dress for the feast. “I liked the Native Americans, because they made the land their home. They were there first, and they got kicked off their land.”
Kim admired the kindness of the Wampanoag tribe members who helped pilgrims adapt to the perils of life in the New World.
“Pilgrims had a hard time. It was nice how the Native Americans helped them,” she said.
Babaian said the first settlers had good intentions for their arrival and wanted to be friends with the natives already living there.
“They were just trying to create a new land,” she said. “This is why we have America today, because of the pilgrims.”
Nearby, fifth-grade mom Kim Lauxen served up Thanksgiving standards to hungry feasters. A counselor at La Cañada High School, Lauxen used to teach at LCE and enjoyed the feast as a fun moment of togetherness and appreciation before school let out for the Thanksgiving holiday. When daughter Dani Carbert got to fifth-grade, she couldn’t wait to participate.
“I was excited about it because this was the year I got to be a parent,” she said. They take it to a level of where it’s not just dressing up — they’re researching tribes — everything is brought to life.”
In February, students will continue the lesson with a trip to Valley Forge, Pa., one of the battlegrounds of the American Revolution, and to Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Drange said what students learn in fifth grade, and their memories of events like the annual feast and the Valley Forge trip, make a lasting impact.
“We’re really glad our students have a strong history program,” she said. “Some of our students know more about American history than our adults do.”