MINNEAPOLIS — Throughout the month of December, the students at Parents In Community Action (PICA) Head Start rack up a lot of travel miles. Though the students aren't more than 5 years old, each day they take an international "flight" to a different country, all within the comfort of their classroom.
The educational excursions are part of a month-long unit on learning about worldwide cultures during the holiday season. Each classroom at the agency's 13 head start centers across Hennepin County gets assigned a theme of a different country. Along the walls of the classrooms and throughout the hallways, you can find cultural artwork, photos and phrases in native languages.
In La Lee's classroom, kids get time each day to buckle up in a pretend plane and travel to China.
"When we go to China, we talk about how we get to China, and the kids know we have to take the airplane," said Lee, who has taught at the Aubrey Della center for two years.
Lee says when the students "arrive" in China, they spot differences and find commonalities between the Chinese and American cultures.
"We look around then we see what we see, and then we point out, 'Oh there’s a Chinese flag, and then they compare the Chinese flag to the American flag. We say 'Oh, they both have stars, they both have red,'" Lee said.
Antyenette Walker, the center director for the Aubrey Della PICA location, says the timing of the annual celebration of global cultures is intentional.
"It's the traditional celebration time for everybody, so that we want to make sure it happens during this time of the year," said Walker. "Everybody gets to celebrate each other to recognize what other people are doing this time of the year in different countries."
But it doesn't just take an educational unit to teach the students in PICA classroom about diversity and acceptance: educators say it's a constant conversation they have all year long.
"We are very diverse, children and staff," said Lee. "The earlier the better to introduce them to diversity so that way, they embrace the diversity culture and tradition...and accept everybody’s culture and education."
Walker says this is only part of what makes the season bright for their students. Since 1987, PICA has had a program called "Wish Tree," in which organizations from the community step up to donate gifts to families who may not otherwise be able to have gifts under their trees.
Walker says this year, more than 30 sponsors stepped up to donate. She says she's filled with gratitude.
"This is really an exciting time for all of us, and we’d like to thank everyone that participated in gathering gifts for our children for the Wish Tree program, thank you so much."