Community profile: Celebrating Hispanic heritage in the Roaring Fork Schools
Studies honor culture during dedicated month, and all year long
Names mean a lot in Hispanic culture, so, when Carbondale Middle School English Language Learner (ELL) teacher Grace De La Sala’s students say they want to Americanize their names, she hands them the book, “The Name Jar.”
“It talks about the importance of your name, and its meaning,” she said.
She recalled one of her younger students who wanted to start using Jasmin instead of her given name, Jazmín, thinking she could fit in more with North American culture if she did.
“After she read the book, she said, ‘No, call me by my (Hispanic) name,’” De La Sala said. “We talk a lot about identity and how powerful that is, especially for some of the kids who were born here or came here at a really young age.”
Cultural identity, as well as lessons about Latin American history, important figures in Chicano history, literature and pop culture have been part of the focus for Roaring Fork District schools during Hispanic Heritage Month.
Celebrated each year in the United States from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, it’s a time to recognize the culture, heritage and contributions of the Hispanic or Latino community in the U.S.
In the Roaring Fork Schools, where 57% of the student population is of Hispanic descent and where Spanish is the second most commonly spoken home language, it’s something that is honored year-round, said De La Sala.
That point was also made when the district Board of Education made a proclamation at its Sept. 14 meeting honoring “Hispanic or Latinx Heritage Month.”
“We recognize that, given the hardships and disparities faced by the Hispanic or Latinx community, this proclamation is only a small step of many that we need to take to be truly inclusive and supportive of our Hispanic or Latinx students and their families,” the proclamation reads, continuing …
“We believe our diversity is a strength where our students’ diverse ethnicities, and cultures create rich educational and cultural experiences for the entire school community.”
De La Sala’s classroom is adorned with the flags of all the Spanish-speaking countries and banners celebrating aspects of Hispanic culture. She said it’s important for students to identify with their cultural roots.
“I’m Colombian, and my husband is from Nebraska, but our son, who was born here, says he feels more Colombian,” she said. “Some of our kids feel more Mexican, or more El Salvadoran. We always try to tell them how powerful it is that they speak Spanish, that their parents or grandparents immigrated here from another country and how brave that is.”
At the same time, she enforces the importance of learning to be proficient in English and that becoming biliterate in both English and Spanish, or any other language, opens up opportunities.
High schools in the Roaring Fork District offer a special Seal of Biliteracy upon graduation if a student can show they are fluent in two languages and complete other requirements.
Literary works by Hispanic authors are a common way to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Throughout the district, middle school students are reading books such as “Esperanza Rising,” “Paco Jones,” “The Summer of the Mariposas” and “A Long Walk to Water.”
De La Sala took it a step further with her students last year. Part of Esperanza’s story involves crocheting, so with the help of ELD teacher Krista Lasko and resident artist fellow Erica Ogihara, who knows how to crochet, the class created a quilt with each student contributing a square.
“We want to do it again this year, and are asking any parents who know how to crochet to get involved,” she said.
Lasko’s students this month have also been comparing and contrasting Latin American patriotic traditions to those in the United States and looking at the differences and similarities of the various country flags.
At Glenwood Springs Middle School, the morning announcements this month have included a tidbit about Hispanic figures in history.
As an extension of that, Spanish teacher Kristen Sartor’s students made posters highlighting important people in the Hispanic community. They’re now displayed in the front hall.
“Students were given a list of important Hispanic people in the world, and some came up with their own choices,” she said. “They then researched the background of the person and found some fun facts about them.”
In sixth and seventh grade, GSMS students are learning about Spanish-speaking countries
Another project at GSMS in recent years has encouraged immigrant students to share their family story. The project was nationally recognized as a “model of excellence,” and the school has been invited to present at the Expeditionary Learning (EL) Education National Conference in December.
“Three kids and I will be presenting our project, and our principal (Joel Hathaway) and another teacher will be presenting as well about what it means to be ‘Crew’ and belonging in our school,” GSMS ELL teacher Lucia Campbell said.
Crew is an EL method adopted by the Roaring Fork Schools, which is used to build better student relationships and understanding and to encourage teamwork toward academic progress and character development.
At Sopris Elementary School in Glenwood Springs, third-grade students have been learning and discussing how children around the world access books. Students will also do a special art project involving a Guatemalan bird, and a pupusa lunch celebration is being planned for next week.
Two Rivers Community School in Glenwood Springs also hosts its annual Hispanic Heritage Night, which is open to the public, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday at the school, 195 Center Drive in West Glenwood.
“We started doing this the second year the school was open, and, since then, we have doubled in student population, so it has become a big community event,” said Brenda Kaiser, community-school coordinator at TRCS.
“Families cook meals and home and bring them for the celebration, so we have food from Guatemala, Mexico, Argentina — all over,” she said.
TRCS is a charter school that opened in 2014 and just came under the umbrella of the Roaring Fork School District this year. Its focus is on language acquisition and projects-based learning.
“Spanish-language acquisition is such a focus for us and is one of the pillars the school was founded on,” Kaiser said. “Culture and food brings people together, and this is one of our favorite events all year long.”
There will also be mariachi music and dancing, as well as dance lessons.
Proceeds from the event go to support the eighth grade class trip to south Baja, Mexico in the spring, where students help at an orphanage, learn at a CSU Extension campus that’s located there and go whale-watching, among other activities.
What: Hispanic Heritage Night
When: 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29
Where: Two Rivers Community School, 195 Center Dr., Glenwood Springs (parking at the West Glenwood Mall)
Cost: $12 adults, $5 children
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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