Brentwood students celebrate a special Thanksgiving
Friends and family filled their plates to the brim with turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, along with traditional Nepali momo and samosa.
This wasn’t your typical Thanksgiving dinner. But for students in the English as a Second Language program at Moore Elementary School in the Brentwood Borough School District who were born all over the world, it was a nice way to learn about the American holiday while sharing a bit about their own cultures with friends.
“I’ve never celebrated it before, so I wonder what it’s going to be like,” said Asra Mohammadi, 8, a third-grader whose family moved to the U.S. from Afghanistan in 2016. She was excited to try the turkey – and she understands the importance of the tradition.
“They did it because they were thankful and had a big feast,” she said.
Moore ESL teacher Katy Kennedy-Rodriguez was inspired to plan the Thanksgiving celebration for her students and their families just one week prior to the event, held on Nov. 25 inside her classroom.
She was discussing Thanksgiving dinner with her students, when one of them said, “I wish we could have Thanksgiving dinner!” Without thinking, she told them they could.
Then she went to work to make it happen.
At Moore Elementary, there are 17 students in the ESL program. Most were born in Nepal, while others come from Iraq, Mexico, China, Afghanistan and Sudan.
In the last decade, Brentwood has seen a surge of students who were born in other nations.
Kennedy-Rodriguez recalls when she started in Brentwood in 2010, there was one family in the district’s ESL program. Today, students enrolled in the district’s ELS program make up six percent of Brentwood’s school population.
Kennedy-Rodriguez works with kindergarten through fifth graders of all levels.
Her students were introduced to Thanksgiving in their other classes, where they were given assignments to write about the holiday. But for some of the children who were born in other countries, they don’t have those memories to share.
Kennedy-Rodriguez wanted to give her students the experience, even if it just meant that they would understand phrases like, “I’m stuffed like a turkey on Thanksgiving.”
And she wanted it to be fun and also serve as a way for parents to be welcomed into the school to share their traditions. “I want them to understand how much I value their cultures and traditions,” she said.
Kennedy-Rodriguez got immediate backing from Brentwood administrators. Principal Bonnie Betler agreed to make the stuffing.
Kennedy-Rodriguez put a request for help on Facebook. Her friends and family chipped in with more than $500 to fund the feast.
Her husband, Jerry Rodriguez, did most of the cooking, while friends made some of the other dishes. Even their baby, 11-month-old Magnus, came along for the celebration.
A group of nine Brentwood High School students involved in student government volunteered to help with the festivities.
The students smiled as they munched on cookies and later their holiday feast.
“It’s about family,” said fifth-grader Numa Rai, 10, whose family moved to the U.S. from Nepal in 2016.
“It’s about laughter,” added third-grader Elisha Phuyal, 8, whose family came from Nepal. She was born in the United States.
The message of the day sunk in for the students.
“Be thankful and help others if they’re in trouble,” said fourth-grader Dinesh Acharya, 10.
Parents brought dishes from their homelands for the children to share with their friends.
Momos, or Nepali dumplings, were a huge hit.
Binod Gurung, a Bhutanese native who moved to the U.S. from Nepal in 2009, enjoyed a meal with his son, Saugat, 8.
At home, they celebrate Bhutanese and Nepali holidays, along with American ones.
It’s important for Saugat to learn about Thanksgiving, because he was born here and has lots of friends from the U.S. and is growing up here, Binod said.
But he also wants to keep the family’s native traditions alive.
“We need to teach the upcoming generations what we all learned from our forefathers,” he said.