If you see a train rolling through the halls of EMS during the next couple of weeks, know that it is magical. Inspired by The Polar Express, the kindergarten and 1-2 ELA classes have merged to form an Emerald Express, in which they’re traveling the world to learn the holiday traditions and geographies of various countries. Following the completion of their train cars, hats, and paper suitcases last Thursday, the students set forth on their first adventure, a trip to Colombia. They boarded the train in Jen’s room, then proceeded down the hall – cheered on by Middle School students – turned the corner down the staircase and headed over to Mary’s desk, where Mary stamped their passports and pointed them to the Fellowship Hall for Día de las Velitas, or “Day of the Little Candles.” The projector revealed video images of Colombia, while the speakers played traditional tunes. The students danced their way into seats at the tables, found the little candle “sticker” among their travel brochures, cut it out, colored it, and affixed it to their suitcases. Meanwhile, Merrick took them to the kitchen in small groups and led them all in the rolling of buñuelos, a Columbian fried dough which, in this case, Merrick garnished with ricotta and a bit of spice. Lastly, the students were treated to a special guest appearance by Kevin Sanabic, Frankie’s au pair and a native of Colombia, who offered first-hand accounting of his favorite holiday traditions, showed pictures of spectacular light displays, then capped off his presentation with an amazing performance on his acoustic guitar while the students ate the finished buñuelos.

In addition to being enormously fun, the larger project emphasizes empathy and cross-cultural immersion. As Merrick states, “Holidays are a window into culture, and students can relate to the emotions involved since we all celebrate holidays, so it’s a good way to learn about how different cultures celebrate in different ways for similar purposes.” Each next stop on the intercontinental tour will involve the students making authentic food and seeing various performances. In India, they’ll celebrate Diwali and make chai tea; in Sweden they’ll see Santa Lucia Day and make Lucia buns; in Mexico they’ll make pozole; in Israel, latkes. In Germany, Bettina Neset will inform them of the traditions of nutcrackers and Christmas trees. Plus, Merrick is taking the Hummingbirds and an 8-foot toboggan up Rabbit Ears this week to return with a tree for the school. Throughout the unit, students are making ornaments representative of key issues and symbols per stop, which will adorn the tree through the end of the semester. Stop by the front office to see it.