Fourth graders in Central York share cultures with kids across the country

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

A Central York fourth-grade class shared their holiday traditions Wednesday with a class in California. 

Teacher Jamie Antoun's class at Sinking Springs Elementary corresponds with virtual pen pals. Once a month they write to students from a class at New Horizon Islamic School in Irvine, California. In addition to exchanging letters, the classes also hold video chats, exchange songs and share their holiday traditions. 

The exchange is part of a program through Empatico, a free organization that connects classes worldwide through video. This program, Festivals Around the World, was made to help teach students about other cultures and share their own. 

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Students passed around a microphone to ask questions and share their traditions. 

“We are different; we are excited to share,” a California student said early in the video call.

Sinking Springs Elementary students Sophie Holtzman and Olivia Gottsch told the California students about their Christmas traditions, such as going to other family members’ houses, tracking Santa or playing the “floor is lava" game.

Levi Reihold, Landon Creep and Reid Albright told the Islamic students about candy canes, leaving cookies out for Santa and stockings their great-grandma made for their family members. They also asked if the Islamic students have an elf to help them celebrate the holidays. 

The California students said they didn’t have an elf because they don’t celebrate Christmas, but they do celebrate Ramadan, which involves fasting all day until they can have a big meal as a family at dinner. 

They also surprised the Sinking Springs students by sharing that they don’t get presents for Christmas but do for Eid, at the end of Ramadan. Next year, Ramadan is March 22 through April 21.

Olivia Gottsch, on left, and Sophie Holtzman, on right, with their classmates at Sinking Springs Elementary school virtually sharing their holiday traditions with an Islamic school in California in York on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022.

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Olivia was surprised to learn that the other students don't celebrate the same holidays she does. She also learned that the other students eat some foods that are different from what she eats. 

Reid said the experience was cool because “we got to know more about their culture.”

Landon said he learned that the other students don’t get to see snow. 

Both boys also learned that the other class starts later in the day than they do and that they do enjoy some similar foods, including restaurants like Chick-fil-A. 

Landon discovered that the other students play some of the same video games he does. 

Nayeli Alies told the other students about a Dominican Republic parade to celebrate independence from Haiti. She said she wanted to share the tradition because it’s special to her culture and she wants more people to learn about it. 

“I'm happy to share this stuff with other people so they know more about me and my culture,” she said. 

She also learned about the other class and her own classmate, Lily Baghli, and their traditions, such as Eid. 

Lily explained to Nayeli that leading up to Eid, most participants, like the students in the Islamic school, fast all day. She doesn’t get to do that yet because it’s too much for her, but she fasts between lunch and dinner during Ramadan. 

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Lily, whose family is from Algeria, was able to greet the other Islamic students in Arabic. She speaks three languages as a fourth grader and is still learning how to separate French from Arabic. She said it was cool to be able to speak to other people in their shared language and celebrate the same traditions she knows with people outside of her family. 

Nayeli said it was cool to learn about Lily and the other students. 

— Reach Meredith Willse at or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.