Before she began reading a short poem about the coca bean, Kelly Potts, a teacher at Hybla Valley Elementary, asked her audience of students how many of them could speak and read in more than one language. About half the hands in the room popped up.
Potts and a colleague, Lilian Duran, read to students alternately in English and Spanish. Although some attention spans drifted, many students raptly stared at the readers, particularly Duran as she read in Spanish, eyes open, mouths agape. The students had about twenty minutes in the literature appreciation session before they moved on to another room with a focus on a different aspect of Hispanic culture.
Last Friday, Hybla Valley Elementary celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month with a day of cultural activities for students, and a dinner in the evening for families. The Mexican restaurant El Puerto donated food for a staff luncheon, and parents contributed to a pot luck sampler for the family night. Traditional dancers from Rose Hill Elementary performed for the families, and a parent panel discussed Hispanic issues.
During the school day, all students had a chance to participate in four stations that highlighted different aspects of Hispanic culture. In the cultural artifacts room, art teacher Suzanne Parrish led students around a classroom packed with pictures, posters artifacts and art from countries across South and Central America. Holding up a skeleton, she told them about the Day of the Dead festival. Later, she showed students how to use molds, some created from artifacts that a friend of hers had excavated from Incan ruins, to shape clay into Mayan and Incan statuettes.
In the gym, students laughed as they watched a video of traditional and regional dances from Mexico. Their delight increased when teachers Odori Pendleton and Keyona Fulton gave a live demonstration of the meringue, then brought the students to their feet to try it out themselves. On the other side of the room, students surrounded a table covered with construction paper to design their additions to a mural of a leopard (the school’s mascot) inspired by the decorative motifs on traditional wooden animal carvings crafted by artists in Oaxaca, Mexico.
ESOL teacher Tiffany Brown organized the day’s events. She said the idea came up at a staff meeting before the start of the school year. The staff was discussing how to bring more cultural activities into the school. According to school system statistics, 64 percent of Hybla Valley’s students are Hispanic. Brown said Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from Sep. 15 to Oct. 15, so the school’s celebration was a little late, but the students appreciated the chance to learn about new cultures and in some cases to share their own with their classmates.
“The children seem really excited. The other teachers are saying there’s just a buzz in the air,” Brown said. She recounted one encounter with an older student, who proudly told Brown, ‘They’re celebrating my country today!’”