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Pilgrims Face Competition in Thanksgiving Lessons

Who really did hold the first celebration in America? For some teachers, including those of American Indian children, that is beside the point. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

The fourth Thursday in November is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Tradition says early English settlers known as the Pilgrims held the first celebration in sixteen twenty-one in Plymouth, Massachusetts. They invited local Indians to a feast to thank them for help in surviving their first year in America.

Yet the Berkeley Plantation along the James River in Virginia calls itself the site of the first official Thanksgiving in America. In sixteen nineteen an English ship arrived with directions for the crew to observe their arrival date as a yearly day of thanksgiving to God.

But now comes a book called "America's REAL First Thanksgiving." A Florida schoolteacher, Robyn Gioia, tells the story of Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez who founded Saint Augustine, Florida. He celebrated with a thanksgiving feast with the native Timucua Indians. That was in fifteen sixty-five.

So what are schoolchildren learning these days about Thanksgiving?

Sharon Biros is a first-grade teacher in Clairton, Pennsylvania. Her students learn about the holiday as they discuss being good citizens. They read stories about the Indians and the Pilgrims. And the children tell what they are each thankful for.

Many of the families are poor. The school organizes a project in which students bring food and money to share with those in need.

Brook Levin heads a preschool in Broomall, Pennsylvania. She says the kids learn about native culture and the Pilgrims and how people at that time grew their own food. Thanksgiving, she says, is a good time to teach about the importance of sharing. The children make bread and other foods and invite their parents to school to enjoy them.

Cheryl Burrell is curriculum director for the public schools on the reservation of the Winnebago Indian tribe in Nebraska. She is not American Indian, and she says there is only one native teacher. But she says all the teachers are trained in native culture and history.

Students learn about the Pilgrims, she says, but not at Thanksgiving time. They learn about them when they study American history. Thanksgiving is used as a time to strengthen a sense of community.

She says most of the families in the tribe celebrate Thanksgiving just like other Americans do. But in addition the students take part in a traditional Indian harvest festival in October.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. I'm Steve Ember.