The last day of school before Thanksgiving break is one all elementary school kids look forward to. But at Soule Road Elementary, it’s an extra special day. On Tuesday Nov. 21, before the kids go home for the holiday, SRE fourth graders welcome family members for Special Ancestor Day.
“It’s just a program we do to have kids learn about their ancestors and what their lives were like when they were younger,” said teacher Greg Roth, who organized the event this year. “We do it close to Thanksgiving because then a lot of people are in town to see family for the holidays so they can come to school for the event.”
Roth said that in October, each child is given an interview sheet and assigned to interview a family member — a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or other older relative. The kids ask their relatives questions about what life was like when they were 10 — school, toys, hobbies, chores, allowance and the prices of common items and activities. The students also ask their relatives about an important historic event that happened at that age and how they reacted to it. Finally, the ancestors are asked to give the students a piece of advice.
Over the course of the next month, the students compile the answers into paragraph form and complete a writing assignment about their ancestor. On Special Ancestor Day, the ancestors profiled are invited to school, where the students read their pieces aloud to them.
“It provides a connection with other generations,” Roth said.
Roth inherited the project from two other SRE teachers. Pam Roth brought the event with her from Morgan Road Elementary when she changed schools. She and Marilyn Crevelling, Roth’s predecessor, ran the event for some 15 years. Both are now retired.
A family affair
Several students were asked to read their pieces aloud before the assembled family members and students. While the student read, the ancestor was asked to accompany the student to the front of the cafeteria and sit in the “ancestor chair,” adorned with decorations. Those students were Jessica Ryan, Jacob Pieklik, Aishwarya Suresh, Kelsey Austin, Dominic Castiglia and Rachel Kline. They described their ancestors’ favorite pastimes (hopscotch and jumping rope were popular), the chores they did (washing dishes, making beds and more — mostly without an allowance) and the prices of things (candy for ten cents, a movie for 25).
The students’ ancestors also had varied memories of historic events. The grandmothers in the crowd had been most effected by World War II. One lived in Italy when the Germans invaded, while another had two brothers in the military when Pearl Harbor was attacked. One mother, a native of India, recalled the assassination of Indira Gandhi shortly after meeting the prime minister on a field trip. Another mom recalled her own mother and grandmother crying after John F. Kennedy was killed.
In addition to the readings, the kids also performed four family-related songs. Each ancestor was given a photo of him or herself with their child as a keepsake, and an artifact table was set up in the back of the room. The table held such historic mementos as photos, flags, dolls, books, newspaper clippings and war memorabilia.
An important history lesson
Special Ancestors Day allowed students a better understanding of where their families came from as well as a glimpse into history. Because of that, teachers have no doubt that the event is worthwhile.
“With all of the emphasis on state testing, teachers are forced to make a decision as to what’s important,” Roth said. “This is important. They learn so much, and it’s so important to our culture.”
“It’s a good tradition to have here,” SRE Principal Jeanne Brown agreed. “It’s a good way for kids to get to know more about their families.”
Special Ancestor Michelle DeCaire appreciated the event, as it allowed her to discuss more of her own history with her great-nephew Brandon Salamone. “We talk about everyday things mostly,” DeCaire said. “We never talked about what my life was like. We never really thought about it before, but there are some big differences.”
Roth echoed the idea that the event allows kids to talk to their relatives about their childhoods instead of the minutiae of everyday life, letting them understand their lives more. “It’s a really neat event,” he said. “It’s a special time for ancestors to tell about things they wouldn’t normally talk about. We’re bridging the past, present and future.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.