Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School’s ‘roots and branches’ culture project

Posted: 10 August 2018


“Roots and Branches” was a global project developed by an elementary school writing teacher at Holy Innocents’. The project encouraged students to explore traditions around the world and understand the role they play in creating both unique and universal cultures by fostering an exchange with their peers at other Round Square schools. Students’ learning outcomes were shared in a concluding paper and celebratory event.

Author and position: Erik Vincent, Director of Global Studies

School: Holy Innocents‘ Episcopal School (HIES) is is a college-preparatory day school in Atlanta, Georgia, United States for students aged 3 through to 12th grade.

Participating schools: Vivek High School, Colegio Gran Bretaña, Transylvania College


“Roots and Branches” was a global project developed by the late Jim Barton, who was an elementary school writing teacher at Holy Innocents’. The project encouraged students to explore traditions around the world and understand the role they play in creating both unique and universal cultures.

By partnering with their peers at three Round Square schools, the project helped fifth-grade students gain a deep understanding of personal, family, and community traditions, along with their origins, meaning, and impact. These learnings enabled them to identify and deepen their appreciation for their own traditions, find connections between their own and other cultures, gain a new perspective on what it means to be part of a global community, and better understand the meaning and importance of culture.


Students were provided with a wide assortment of reference videos and print pieces for the Roots and Branches project describing traditions at home and around the world including:


Describe an important personal, family, community, or national tradition in your life.

Then, describe:

Partners then had the opportunity to exchange:

The students were provided with a series of questions to help them explore the concepts of culture and tradition in more depth and to reflect on their origin’s purpose, meaning, and impacts. Through research, students deepened their understanding of what “culture” means and the role traditions play in creating both unique cultures and global commonalities.

Sample Essential Questions:

After obtaining this information, students analyzed, contextualized and elaborated on them, finally “adopting” them and presenting them through first-person narrative and a wide variety of live, artistic, and digital media.

Sample Exercises Used During the Roots and Branches Project

Family Tradition: Describe a tradition in your family. Where did it come from? What does it mean to you?

U.S. Tradition: Research and describe a U.S. tradition. Where is it practiced? Where did it come from? What does it mean?

Global Traditions: Research and describe traditions from other countries in the world. Where are they practiced? Where did they come from? What do they mean?

Invented Tradition: Describe a made-up tradition and build a fictional culture around it.

Geography: Where are the partner countries and what in their human and physical geography contributes to the development of traditions?

Tradition Narrative: Write a first-person fiction narrative depiction of the shared tradition

Tradition Illustration: Illustration in choice of mediums depicting one ritual, aspect or impact of the shared tradition

Storytelling: Present these narrative tradition depictions in live storytelling presentation to be videoed and presented on line for cross-divisional evaluation

Similar Local Tradition: Students identify local traditions (family, community, U.S.) and compare them to those from other countries, including rituals, origins, and meanings

Blog: Used to record and describe partner profile, country, and traditions: Profile of partner, description of partner country and community, video of partner greeting, text description of partner tradition, text of narrative interpretation, video of narrative presentation, and photos of any artistic tradition interpretations.

Creative interpretation of partner tradition. Options included:

Students were encouraged to reflect on their learning throughout the Roots and Branches project. The result of their research was collated in a final paper which addressed the following in a Final Reflection Paper.

How do these global traditions resemble our local or national traditions? How do they apply to our own culture? What we can learn and borrow from them? How do they help define a global community?

These learnings were also presented at a Roots and Branches concluding event involving all partner students and schools.


The two biggest challenges HIES students and teachers faced during the Roots and Branches project revolved around:


As well as enhancing their global understanding, students developed knowledge in a number of associated curriculum areas such as Geography, Social Studies and Languages. They also furthered their academic and personal skills in areas such as writing across genres, artistic and dramatic expression, the use of technology, public speaking, interpersonal skills, empathy and understanding, interpretation and organisational skills.

The future

We do not plan to continue the Roots and Branches project in this form in 5th grade writing class during the 2018-2019 school year but are going to investigate relocating a similar project to a co-curricular called “Global Faith and Service” (GFS) in 2019-2020. The project will likely be adapted based on faculty feedback from the 2017-2018 Roots and Branches experience and to accommodate the learning objectives for the GFS course. Interested schools should contact erik.vincent@hies.org to express interest in participating in our 2019-2020 experience.


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