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Schools strive to make holiday parties inclusive

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Dressing the part: Weston Elementary student Courtney Vaughn, 7, watches the movie
Dressing the part: Weston Elementary student Courtney Vaughn, 7, watches the movie "The Polar Express" during lunch period on Wednesday. Students were encouraged to participate in themed dress-up days all week. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — Sitting at her lunch table at Weston Elementary School on a recent afternoon, Courtney Vaughn declared she is pretty sure God invented Christmas.

“So everybody could have toys,” said Courtney, 7. “Because if people don’t have toys, then, they can get toys.”

A quick survey of youngsters in the same cafeteria showed a wide range of thoughts on the holiday season. Many pointed to a time for sharing with others and spending time with family. But just as many had stories about the birth of a savior.

In an effort to not exclude a student who might be of another faith, today’s educators focus celebrations on the magic of the holidays, while delicately working around discussions involving a specific religious connection to the season.

“It’s an unspoken rule,” said Kimmy Phillips, a first-grade teacher at Weston.

In public schools, most religious references to Christmas – that baby in the manger, being the most obvious one – are carefully omitted from classroom discussions about the coming holiday, though children don’t always follow suit.

“We’re definitely calling it a holiday party even though most of the kids refer to it as a Christmas party,” said Rachel Smith, also a first-grade teacher at Weston. “There are some kids that come with a very strong opinion about what their family believes, and you just kind of have to work around it.”

Regardless of religious background – theirs or their students – teachers and staff have been hard at work to make sure everyone feels included in the holiday celebrations.

At Weston, students were invited to participate in themed dress-up days all week, from pajamas to Christmas sweaters. They also drank hot chocolate and watched “The Polar Express.”

Makena Baker is one of those students whose holiday experience is deeply rooted in the Christian faith.

“That’s what Christmas is all about – God’s son being born,” said Makena, 7.

Makena, a second-grader at Weston, attends Park Chapel Christian Church in Greenfield, and she associates Christmas as much with going to the annual Christmas Eve worship service as opening presents from Santa.

“I like the songs they do,” she said. “It’s fun to sing along with them. And the best part of it all, … my mom will lay me down on the couch if I fall asleep at service. We sleep and sleep and wait ‘til it’s Christmas!”

Across the county, holiday celebrations will culminate today in winter-themed parties before the coming break.

On Thursday, students at Weston were already getting excited.

“We’re gonna exchange chocolate bars,” said Jonathen Lowder, 8. “I love it.”

Students return from winter break Jan. 8.

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