Thanksgiving is wrapped up in so many traditions. Family, turkey, football, and mashed potatoes to name a few.
But at Westminter’s Hodgkins Elementary School, it’s all about the kid’s table.
“I love them all very, very much, and you get connected to all of them,” said Maureen Barela-Wille, who teaches English-language learners at Hodgkins. “For many of our students, this will be their very first Thanksgiving here in the United States, and I felt that it was important for them to know our history and the traditions that we have.”
For the past 15 years, Barela-Wille has been cooking Thanksgiving dinner for her students. It is not just a meal—it’s a history lesson for students who may have never heard of the holiday, or eaten the traditional foods.
The students learn about the day, and have assignments that help them understand its history. The payoff is the meal.
“It’s one of the most special days of the whole school year,” Barela-Wille said.
This year, Barela-Wille and her helpers served 120 students—half of whom are immigrants.
“We have students that are actually sharing their own immigration stories and writing about why people immigrate to this country,” Barela-Wille said. “It’s a great way for them to look at the lives they’re leading now, and compare them to what their lives were like before—it’s very personal for a lot of kids.”
Barela-Wille said it is a lesson students remember.
“The kids--they remember it for a long, long time,” Barela-Wille said. “I’ve actually received letters from kids that are in high school, ‘Do you still do the thanksgiving feast?’”
The entire meal is cooked by teachers at Hodgkins Elementary—with a little help from the students on the bread stuffing and pumpkin muffins. Barela-Wille buys the turkeys herself, and the staff pitches in on the rest of the food. Barela-Wille said it is all because of their love for their students.
“It’s a community effort where everyone pulls together to make this a really special memorable day for our kids who we love so much,” Barela-Wille said.