To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, Casa Grande Elementary School District partnered with Pinal Hispanic Council to host the 2019 Casa Grande Mariachi Festival at Casa Grande Middle School’s auditorium.
“This event brought in over 200 people together from all backgrounds to celebrate and honor Hispanic heritage through art and music,” said Michael Cruz, director of communications and marketing for the rural school district serving 6,500 students in Pinal County that has been nationally recognized by 7 Mindsets for its social-emotional learning and inclusive practices.
Many Arizona school districts find that being culturally inclusive helps build stronger relationships between staff and the communities they serve, which often leads to increased family engagement and students’ academic growth.
“Schools need to invest in building a culture of togetherness and respect built on inclusive leadership practices,” Cruz said. “Being open to host events that celebrate people and cultures is a great start.”
Video by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews: How schools celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month
Understanding community, training staff are key
By better understanding the communities they serve, schools can be more culturally inclusive, said Emily Waszolek, communications director for Creighton School District.
For example, Larry C. Kennedy School creates a welcoming atmosphere on campus for all families, ensures all school communication is bilingual and provides multiple interpreters at all meetings and campus events, Waszolek said.
“Principal Dr. Burgess is learning Spanish from her parents on campus and practices with her community every chance she gets,” Waszolek said.
Investing in staff professional development focused on inclusive practices is vital to making this work, Cruz said.
Casa Grande Elementary School District partners with the Hispanic Leadership Institute – Pinal, and members of the Valle Del Sol family to offer an annual leadership development course that is focused on serving the Hispanic community.
“Many of our teachers participate, and we as a district sponsor the cost to participate,” Cruz said.
Inclusive teachers take the time to understand their students and identify strategic pathways to incorporate culture and history into their learning, Cruz said.
“Our district spends a lot of time and focus on authentic literacy. The foundation of this is based on the idea of purpose-based reading and writing,” Cruz said.
“Taking the time to ask questions and position students to critically think is imperative to not only understand contributions from people, but to further understand the ‘why’ as to what went into the thought process of these contributors and how it came to fruition,” Cruz said.