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ON THE SCENE: Keene keeps Thanksgiving tradition with school dinner

November 30, 2018
By NAJ WIKOFF - Columnist , Lake Placid News

For the last 48 years, Keene Central School has held a Thanksgiving luncheon for its students, current and retired staff, and community friends who support the school, such as the board members of Little Peaks and the High Peaks Foundation. About the only aspect that's changed is the location, as for decades it was held in the school auditorium and more recently it's been held in the gymnasium.

High school juniors and seniors help set up and clean up the tables and chairs and serve the food, which is cooked by the school's talented cafeteria staff. And as tradition, the kindergarten through third-grade students serenade those assembled before the meal begins. This luncheon is no small undertaking as nearly the entire school body is sitting down and breaking bread together at the same time.

The charm, warmth and fellowship of the school community enjoying a meal together is sheer magic. One of Keene Central's great educational assets is that younger and older students often engage with each other, with the older students often acting as mentors to those in the lower grades. The elementary, middle and high school students are not educated in separate buildings. They are all in one, and that one building is intimate as far as schools go.

Article Photos

Photo provided — Naj Wikoff
Kyle, a senior at Keene Central School, brings in the cranberry sauce.

School teachers and administrators continually take advantage of the proximity to connect students, such as through the annual Science Slam, wherein all students participate in science-related projects and experiments. At the Thanksgiving luncheon, an example of younger-older student engagement was through having primarily members of the elementary school introduce the international students in their languages, which included French, German and Spanish and a lesson in Portuguese.

"Thanksgiving is a new experience for the international students," said Joy McCabe, the international student program coordinator. "We gave them the background, and they love it, of course, for anything involving food is beyond wonderful. A delightful bond has formed between the international students and the younger bilingual students. When the younger kids got so nervous before they introduced them, the international students could soothe them in their language, telling them not to worry."

"My first American Thanksgiving was great," said Henri, who hails from Hamburg, Germany, and is a senior at Keene Central. "I am enjoying the experience of having lunch with all the many people here. It seems to be a very special event. I like being at Keene Central because it is very small, much smaller than my school in Germany. Each teacher is concerned about you, and everyone is helping each other. Everyone is very close."

An added aspect of the luncheon is the annual Scholastic Book Fair and sale of baked goods set out in the corridor linking the main building, elementary classrooms and cafeteria with the gymnasium. The fair opened the week prior and continues at the school through Nov. 29. Lia Loomis - parent, volunteer, substitute teacher - is the chair of the book fair, which funds needed books for the classrooms and supports the parent-teacher committee's scholarships and funds youth in need going on educational trips.

"If people can't find what they want here, we have an online fair that has a much broader selection," said Loomis. "One aspect is an e-wallet; people can establish a fund that their children can draw from to purchase books they need for school."

School Superintendent Dan Mayberry opened the luncheon by asking everyone to take a moment to reflect on what they were thankful for, saying that truly grateful people express their gratitude through the many little things they do every day, through such acts as holding the door for someone, waiting their turn, or just saying hello with a smile. He said that whether they are thankful for their health, their family and friends, or the community within which they live and work, it's important to share your gratitude every day.

"This luncheon is fantastic," said former school board president Teresa Cheetham-Palen. "Every school has its challenges - both big and small schools have their challenges - but this luncheon reflects the beauty of a small school. We can have community members together with all the teachers and students. It's a yearly event, the kids are involved, and all the food is prepared right here. It's incredible."

Bob Wroughter, the new principal, shared how he'd often visited the valley in the past to hike, sometimes to shop and dine, but he never appreciated how unique the community was until he started working at the school. He praised Keene Central and the community for its commitment to educating the whole child, making a mind-body connection, and working to protect and promote the wild character of the environment within which they live. He said he was told and has come to believe that the school is the heart of the community, and he thanked everyone for making the school as vibrant as it is.

"I attended the first Thanksgiving when I was in high school here," said retired KCS teacher Joanne Whitney. "I think the first one was held two years before I graduated. My mom, Hilda Senecal, was a food service worker here at the time, a job she held for 17 years. The spirit of the event has remained the same ever since; it always been a wonderful community event where the students and staff all get together with a performance by the little guys."

"Vivien Whitney started the Thanksgiving luncheon," said retired teacher Linda Deyo.

"She was the head of the cafeteria at the time," Whitney said. "It hasn't changed all that much. The student council has always served the food - well, at first it was the cafeteria staff, but they soon involved the students."

"It was always a very nice get-together for the community. Anybody who had something to do with the school was welcomed to come," Deyo said. "It's just a nice long-standing tradition that I hope will continue."

"I don't know if it's unique to this school, but the retired teachers are all invited," Whitney said. "Many come, and many volunteer to support the school. Just because we're retired doesn't mean that we've stopped caring for the children or the school."



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