Auburn area schools vary on holiday approach

Alta Vista embraces it, others remain neutral
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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When it comes to the holidays, religion and schools can be a sensitive subject for administrator to navigate. In Auburn, two charter schools symbolize the stark contrast with which it can be handled.

At Alta Vista Community Charter School, children in all classrooms sang “The Dreidel Song” before the day of lessons began Wednesday – not too out of the ordinary, as they have sang their good morning song in nine different languages, Principal Patricia Leftridge said.

On Thursday at Alta Vista, Timothy Tomlin’s class of third- and fourth-graders made construction-paper Christmas trees as “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” and “Jingle Bell Rock” served as background music.

Today, the school’s students will be going caroling – including a performance of “The Dreidel Song,” Leftridge said. After all, Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, begins Sunday.

“We try to really encompass a lot of cultures in what we do,” Leftridge said. “So we talk about every celebration that comes along.”

Children from about 20 different cultures make up the 115 students from preschool through fifth grade, she said.

“To show validity for all those different backgrounds, I feel, is really important,” said Leftridge, who added that the school’s big winter musical on Jan. 26 isn’t tied to one holiday.

Tomlin said his entire class celebrates Christmas, which seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

And it just so happens to be 10-year-old Amber Martinez-Carlos’ favorite holiday.

Not surprisingly, she’s most looking forward to the presents. Hopefully, a phone, she said.

“My sister got one, and I haven’t,” Amber said.

At Bowman Charter School, Principal Gary Yee said the school remains neutral to holidays and instead has winter celebration musicals.

“We are sensitive to the separation between church and state,” Yee said. “So that’s why no longer do we name the performances other than the very general title of winter performances.”

Any teachings related to the holidays of various religions are strictly according to what’s in the textbook, he said.

Still, it’s an undeniably exciting time for a lot of the children at the school, he said.

“Even though we are a charter school we are serving our community like most public schools. We try to realize that the children, the students, are certainly excited about the time,” Yee said. “And after all, at an elementary school we are talking kids 5 years old up to 14, and this is something big for them, and we don’t want to minimize that – but there’s the balance also between being that and being sensitive to being compliant with the law.”

When it comes to Placer High School, Principal Peter Efstathiu said it also remains holiday neutral as it has for years.

Tomlin, who has 22 students in his class, said they don’t shy away from the subjects.

“Through the literature and that, we embrace all the different cultures,” he said. “And that’s not just by happenstance but on purpose, by direction.”


Jon Schultz can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews