Learning about all of the holidays

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 16, 2002

PEDRO -- Even though most malls are filled with heavily decorated trees and large men in red suits seated beside them, as "Jingle Bells" plays over and over again, many Americans celebrate other holidays in December.

For the past two weeks, seventh grade students at Rock Hill Middle School researched not only Christmas, but Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday celebrating the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, Kwanzaa, an African-American holiday patterned after African harvest festivals, Ramadan, the month in which Muslims fast during the day, and Las Pasadas, a traditional Mexican festival which reenacts Joseph and Mary's search for an inn, by using the school's mobile computer labs.

"The mobile labs made this oh, so much easier," English teacher Denise Fraley said. "We had snow days, and we couldn't have used the library for that length of time. With these, you just wheel them up and use them."

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At the middle school, each classroom has at least five computers, but with approximately 30 students in every class, all students doing their research at the same time would have been impossible, Fraley said. Also, many of the students do not have Internet access at home.

The middle school has two mobile labs, each having 24 wireless laptops that have not only Internet software but office applications and printers, so the students do not have to leave the classroom to print out information found on the Internet.

Fraley also praised BESS, software on all of the district's computers designed to filter pornography and other material deemed inappropriate for children.

"It protects them and me," she said.

The students' research involved elements of the five holidays which included decorations, songs, gifts, stories, lights/candles, dates, countries of origin, foods, symbols and keywords.

"I wanted them to know more about Hanukkah than what Adam Sandler has taught them," she said. "That's the only thing some of them have known before this."

Seventh grade student Nathan Davenport said the most surprising information he discovered about Ramadan's fast is that gargling is considered breaking the fast, but accidentally drinking bath water while bathing is not.

"In other countries, seeing a fat dude in a red suit might be weird to those people," he said.

Fraley said she avoided discussing the religious aspects of the holidays and referred the students to their parents when they had questions.

Lloyd Bailey, technology director for the Rock Hill district, said the students learning how to use the Internet for research earlier will help them when they are in high school and eventually, in college. He emphasized that technology is not a fix-all because computers are a classroom tool just like a chalkboard, but it is still a new way of teaching the district is excited to have.

At the end of class, Fraley passed a slip of paper out to the students that read: "Our traditions and rituals shape who we are as a society. The more we know and the more we understand and respect each other's rituals, the greater our chances of living in harmony."

"Technology is no different than chalk -- it's an aid to enhance learning," Principal Wes Hairston said. "But, we are thrilled that we could make this happen."

"Good job," he said, pointing at a smiling Fraley.