Brenda Rollings was still relatively new as a teacher at Gilmor Elementary School in West Baltimore 14 years ago when she asked her kindergartners about their Thanksgiving holiday. She was saddened by some of the answers.
"Some would say they had a nice one," said Ms. Rollings, who now teaches at Commodore John Rodgers Elementary School in East Baltimore. "Others would talk about eating hamburger or chicken or not very much at all."
Ms. Rollings decided that wouldn't do. She wanted all the children to eat at least one turkey dinner with all the trimmings, even if that meant serving the meal in school. And that was how her annual day-before-Thanksgiving dinner got its start.
Yesterday, the tradition continued in a brightly decorated room where all 31 of Ms. Rollings' 5-year-olds and some of their parents feasted on two turkeys, stuffing, candied yams, string beans, rolls, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, sauerkraut, cranberry sauce and enough chocolate cake and pumpkin pie to satisfy the most demanding sweet tooth.
The children were outfitted in "pilgrim" attire for the meal -- boys in black hats and girls in white bonnets.
"Turkey!" a small group said when asked what it was about
Thanksgiving that they liked.
"It's when the Indians came and showed the pilgrims how to cook," explained Rachel Sokol.
The children were orderly and relatively quiet, patiently waiting in line for their food.
Rodgers' principal, Willie Grier Jr., said the dinner is a helpful teaching tool.
"This is a good event that also teaches social skills," he said.
"And it is also a good event that brings parents in and gets them involved. And anything that brings parents in is good."
Leo Dunifer took a day off from work to attend the dinner with his wife, Ruby, and daughter Candace.
"She was excited and wanted to know if I was coming," he said as Candace ate nearby.
"He woke up talking about this!" said Tarsha Chambers about her son Antwine Jones.
Ms. Rollings spent the morning shepherding the children from the serving table to their chairs.
"Go over there and get some more," she told one child who had cleaned her plate. "Does everyone have enough?"
Ms. Rollings, who has no children of her own, will spend Thanksgiving with her family. She will be content to know that all her pupils will have had at least one traditional Thanksgiving meal.
"It brings me joy," she said looking around the room. "This is their little Thanksgiving. It's a family atmosphere. One of sharing and caring."