Elementary pupils celebrate feast with food, attire, song

By Harold Gwin


YOUNGSTOWN — The participants were tiny but the story was big as kindergarten pupils at Paul C. Bunn Elementary School met for a “Friendship Soup Feast.”

Patricia Yank’s class was dressed as “Indians” and, on a slight variation from the original, invited the “Pilgrims” from Mary Leone’s class to the Thanksgiving feast they had prepared.

All of the children in her class brought in canned vegetables to help make the soup, which served as the main course at Monday’s banquet, Yank said.

Each child got to put their addition into the big roasting pan that held the soup.

Pupils at Jackson Elementary in Niles, meanwhile, donned deer-skin vests, felt hats, white coifs and collars — all of the paper variety — for their Thanksgiving celebration.

An annual tradition for kindergarteners at Jackson, the Thanksgiving feast was opened this year to the first-grade classes as well. Teachers in the two grade levels spent several days incorporating the story of the original Thanksgiving into their education plans for the children, and, on Monday, the characters and choreographed songs came together.

Teacher help also was part of the recipe mix at Bunn: Yank made the accompanying dishes — cornbread and a pumpkin pudding — at home and added applesauce to the menu.

Leone said her class got invited to the feast just last week and, as its contribution to the event, prepared a play about the first Thanksgiving, complete with the tale of the Pilgrims’ voyage to the New World in 1620, the hardships they faced and the help they received from an Indian who allowed them to survive. Her class wore Pilgrim hats and bonnets while Yank’s class wore headdresses, all made from construction paper.

Yank said a retired Youngstown teacher, Patty Orenic, got her involved a decade ago in what has become a Thanksgiving tradition, and Leone said she’s been doing something similar for years.

“It’s called Friendship Soup,” Yank said, explaining that the focus is on the effort to help young children socialize and make new friends.

That’s something the kindergarten curriculum stresses, she said.

The children all sat at long tables after the play, with Pilgrims interspersed with Indians.

Destiny Stewart, a Pilgrim, said she liked the applesauce, cornbread and soup.

“I like the same things,” chimed in Gregory Mahone, an Indian sitting across the table from Destiny.

“I don’t like that,” Destiny said, pointing toward the pumpkin pudding desert.

Again, her Indian dining partner agreed.

“It’s nasty,” Gregory said.

Destiny said she enjoyed being in the play and acting out the first Thanksgiving.

Gregory said he liked the show.

Gathered in the cafeteria, the children at Jackson dug into a hearty meal of mashed potatoes and gravy, corn and bread rolls.

And the holiday highlight was not forgotten.

Janet Sotak, one of the school’s cooks, spent her Sunday at home roasting multiple turkeys to bring in the next day. According to teachers, the pupils were ecstatic about it, securing turkey in their list of things to be thankful for — right below “my parents.”

“It’s lovely,” said 6-year-old Pilgrim Noralyn Barker, of the meal she washed down with a carton of chocolate milk.

Her friend Hailey Drawn, 7, stopped her short, “She always says that!”

With their bellies full of seasonal fixings, the group of around 75 dwarfed Pilgrims and Indians made their way to a classroom for a few turkey-themed songs and grade school classics.

“You’re going to sit — get this — Indian style!” said instructor Carol Pantelis, preparing a CD of tunes the children practiced using.

As they thrashed in excitement on their tribal drums made from coffee cans, the pupils beamed with Indian honor and Pilgrim pride.

“We talk about what they’re thankful for,” Pantelis said. “That’s why we do this.”

“We want them to have a real Thanksgiving, because some of them might not have one at home.”

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