The TTU Office of International Affairs K-12 Global Outreach unit teaches West Texas students about holiday traditions around the globe through annual program.
With Christmas comes the seasonal traditions we've all come to be familiar with since childhood, such as decorating a Christmas tree or singing Christmas carols. However, Christmas isn't the only holiday celebrated during the winter months. Though we might not be actively familiar with these holidays, the TTU Office of International Affairs (OIA)K-12 Global Education Outreach (GEO) unit is changing that for children in West Texas.
Serving the 58 school districts in Region 17, the K-12 GEO unit offers cultural programs as an extension of school classrooms. Schools can participate either through field trips to the International Cultural Center (ICC) or by bringing the division's "On the Road" programs to their schools. Each program is built around a school's schedule and designed to foster cultural understanding.
The ICC sees around 20,000 kids per year, with class sizes ranging from 25 to 200. With only a few teachers on staff, the K-12 GEO unit partners with organizations and volunteers both on and off the Texas Tech campus to ensure their programs reach as many students in the region as possible, especially when the holiday season rolls around.
"This time of year is really busy for us because we have our holiday programs," Kelly Coleman, director of K-12 International Operations and Outreach, said. "We call it our Celebration of Light."
Based on the common theme of light, the Celebration of Light teaches children in grades K-5 about how this theme is used by those cultures. The program is prefaced with defining what culture is—the day to day life of a group of people and how they interact with each other and their environment—followed by establishing a connection through the children's understanding of Christmas.
"I think the whole concept of light is really relatable to the kids, especially with Christmas trees and New Year's," Charles Olivier, K-12 lead teacher, said. "They understand Christmas. So, if we can make that link by using the idea of light and how it's used in other places, they can make real world connections."
The Celebration of Light is set up into four stations featuring four different holidays: Las Posadas (Mexico), Diwali (India), Hogmanay (Scotland) and St. Martin's Day (Germany). The children are also given small LED lights they will use along with crafts at each station as they learn about each holiday's traditions and the significance of light in each. In addition, students are also taught about the common theme of community and family within each of these celebrations.
"It's fun to teach those kids and see them discover the commonalities," Olivier said.
The Celebration of Light isn't the only holiday program offered by the K-12 GEO unit at the ICC. Another popular program is Weihnachtsfest, which the unit conducts alongside Texas Tech's German faculty, German club and Department of Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures (CMLL). During this celebration, children learn about German Christmas traditions and a language activity in the form of a Puppenspiel (puppet show) of Little Red Riding Hood presented in both English and German.
While these aren't the only programs provided by the OIA's K-12 unit, they are an important facet of the program and its desire to expose children to all corners of the world.
"What's neat to me is that a lot of these kids may not ever get to leave their school or neighborhood," Coleman said. "They might get to choose one field trip a year and they get to come here. When they come here they are so excited about the program."
"It's not like they're coming to the Office of International Affairs, but they're going into the world," Olivier added.