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.
Focus on student learning and community events
Creighton School District hosted community events and provided “students with opportunities to learn about the significance of the month with special class assignments,” during Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 each year, said Waszolek of the district that serves more than 6,500 students in Phoenix.
A Spanish singer opened Creighton School District’s quarterly Community Council Meeting for about 100 to 150 families.
Students at Biltmore Preparatory Academy, a Spanish dual-language school, held a Hispanic Countries Independence Day parade for their families highlighting what makes each nation unique, Waszolek said.
A Monte Vista School kindergarten teacher hand-crafted doll dresses representing the States of Mexico, which were displayed in the library.
The Creighton Family Resource Center hosted a potluck for families on Mexico’s Independence Day where parents and community members brought in culturally specific food and dressed in traditional garments to celebrate, Waszolek said.
Larry C. Kennedy School staff also wore traditional dress, and the school promoted Hispanic Heritage Month through Facebook.
“The response has been very positive,” Waszolek said, noting that the district reached up to 700 people per social media post. “The most important responses have been in person at our sites with families thanking our principals and leadership staff directly for their celebrations.”
Learning about and celebrating all cultures
In Casa Grande, the entire city has supported the school district’s efforts to engage all people in the community, and strong partnerships with local government, non-profits, and businesses have promoted and supported students, Cruz said.
“Casa Grande Elementary School District takes pride in celebrating and recognizing the unique cultures of all our staff and students,” Cruz said.
“We host a myriad of events and outreach activities to bring people together to educate, empower, and engage our families with the belief that education transforms communities and changes students’ lives,” Cruz said.
Casa Grande Elementary School District also hosts an annual Unity March where more than 1,500 students march in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and promote his message of unity, Cruz said.
Creighton students have numerous opportunities to learn about important people and events in history and celebrate many cultures, Waszolek said.
“Each year we celebrate Martin Luther King Day with projects in our classrooms, Hispanic artists through our art teachers, Native American family events that bring in traditional dancing and art, Mexican holidays like Dia de Los Muertos, and at Larry C. Kennedy, they are working to incorporate Folklórico dancing for students as an after school program,” Waszolek said.
“It’s imperative to value diversity in your Strategic Plan, which is why at Creighton we believe in the strength that comes from the diversity of our community, and believe it is so important to ensure our families have a voice in their child’s education,” Waszolek said.