'Every celebration can be beautiful'
Published on Friday, October 16, 2020
BCSD photo / Monica Kreber
College Park Elementary, Hanahan Elementary and Goose Creek Elementary all have large Hispanic populations – and the schools’ English as a Second Language (ESOL) teachers will say that their schools really embrace Hispanic families.
The ESOL teachers at these schools all share similar thoughts on what they want their English and general education learners to walk away with when they graduate elementary school: that differences should be celebrated, and that all languages and cultures can be beautiful.
The district has 2,800 active English learners throughout the district, and another 1,000 former English learners.
There are 3,100 families that have listed Spanish as a language on their district home language survey when they enrolled, plus another 390 families list Portuguese.
Hispanic Heritage Month is September 15 to October 15 and is a time to honor the cultures and contributions of both Hispanic and Latino Americans.
However, teachers in BCSD say their schools make an effort to honor these cultures all year long.
College Park Elementary
ESOL teacher Carla Hogue is in her third year at College Park Elementary. She is in her 16th year with the district, and has previously served as a high school Spanish teacher.
Hogue is bilingual. She was born in New York, but her family is from Ecuador.
Hogue serves 60 ESOL students, but the school has an ESOL population of almost 48 percent. She works with kindergarten and first-graders, and all of them are Hispanic.
ESOL teachers lead their lessons in English. Hogue provides support in academic language that maybe students are having trouble comprehending, but the teachers focus on them learning English itself.
The school hosted its first-ever Hispanic Heritage Month Night for the community on Oct. 15. It was a Hispanic heritage celebration geared toward celebrating different cultures, and Hogue hopes it will become an annual event.
“We are embracing it and we are ready to share that with our community,” she said.
Hogue did activities with her students throughout the past week to prepare the students for the event. They learned about Mexican art, focusing on painters Pablo Picasso and Frida Kahlo, and made their own artwork to decorate the event.
BCSD photo / Monica Kreber
Students who attended the event made hojolata tin art, created their own papel piacdo to take home, made maracas and their own “Ojo De Dios” (God’s Eye), which is an ancient symbol made by the Huichol Indians of Mexico and the Aymara Indians of Bolivia. Families were invited to come dressed in their own Hispanic heritage attire – Hogue herself wore an Ecuadorian outfit. View photos from the event.
Hogue said College Park Elementary has always recognized Hispanic Heritage Month. Because the school’s Hispanic population is so big, the school wants the community to feel that it offers a welcoming environment.
“We really like to get the families involved, and one of our goals is to make sure that the families feel they have someone at the school who will advocate for them,” she said, adding all of the Spanish-speaking families at the school are familiar with her. “For them it’s a really welcoming environment and we try to provide the culture throughout the school and throughout school activities that just highlight differences – and not just Hispanic differences, but just differences at all.”
Hogue said the school tries to highlight those differences in a variety of ways. Around the holidays students participate in “Christmas Around the World” where they can bring their holiday traditions into the classroom.
Sometimes students do song activities that are in Spanish; Hogue said there is a Mariachi version of “Baby Shark.”
“It really shows the other kids part of the culture and how it could be so much different,” she said.
Hogue said her families can feel like they are part of the community.
“I feel like my school does a really good job at bringing those families in and letting them know that this is very much their school as anybody else,” she said.
Hogue said she wants all of College Park Elementary’s students to leave the school expecting differences between other people – and to embrace them.
“Not everybody celebrates the same way, but every celebration can be beautiful,” she said. “The English language is beautiful. The Spanish language is also beautiful. Just being able to accept differences, I think, is one of my biggest goals for my school, and I think they do a very good job at that.”
English is Ellie Espinoza’s second language; she moved to Texas from Mexico and learned English when she was still very young.
More than 21 percent of the school’s students are English learners, and a majority of those students are Hispanic.
Espinoza said Hanahan Elementary has moved to a full co-teaching model; there are five ESOL teachers, and one teacher pulls out newcomer students but the rest co-teach with general education teachers.
While she enjoys recognizing Hispanic Heritage Month, the students did not do anything specific for the month. For the past two years the school has normally hosted an ESOL family night every year where bilingual families are invited to bring dishes from their culture that are special to them. Families also participated in crafts and events.
Espinoza said she tries to incorporate activities throughout the whole school year to organically incorporate other cultures into everything they do. One thing she does is purchase books with diverse characters for students’ read aloud sessions.
“I think our goal is to make this a normal thing throughout the year,” she said.
Like College Park Elementary, Hanahan Elementary has students show what holidays around the world look like as part of a research unit.
“I think we try to (celebrate) throughout the year as it presents itself,” she said.
Espinoza said she thinks the diversity in the school sets Hanahan Elementary students up for preparing for the real world.
“I grew up in a small town where Hispanic was a very, very small population and the majority of the people that I grew up with were Caucasian,” she said. “So it was such a great thing when I finally went off to college and realized that there are so many places that are so much more diverse than where I grew up.”
Espinoza said that immersion allows students to leave school with more understanding of other people and perspectives.
“I think as adults that will always help us in the long run,” she said, adding that everybody comes with valuable input based on personal experiences that should be highlighted.
Espinoza said Hispanic Heritage Month is a great time to highlight all the contributions Hispanics have made to the country.
“It also reflects on all cultures even outside the Hispanic culture,” she said.
Goose Creek Elementary
ESOL teachers at Goose Creek Elementary will say that the ESOL program is a big team effort.
The school has 373 Hispanic students, which is more than 40 percent of the population. English learners make up 37 percent of the population, and the school has seven ESOL teachers.
Kathy Alayon and Victoria Umpornpun are two of those teachers.
“We are definitely a team,” Alayon said.
Alayon is fluent in both English and Spanish. She lived for South America for two years and her children are Hispanic Americans, so her family celebrates both their American and their Venezuelan heritage.
Umpornpun’s family is originally from Thailand but she grew up in America, and said she is proficient in Spanish. She said the school’s ESOL teachers know their students’ families and are thus very intertwined with the community.
Umpornpun said the school enjoys highlighting the different cultures at the school. She teaches a special and somewhat new program called the Newcomers Program, geared toward second through fifth-graders who are new to the United States. Umpornpun pulls these students out during their English/Language Arts block and they learn a curriculum by National Geographic for English beginners.
“We want to show them that they’re special and we care about them, and that even though they came to the United States we still want them to bring their culture,” she said, adding, “We want to be able to take their best qualities and their stories and bring it into our classrooms.”
Alayon said the school tries to have a family view and a sense of community while emphasizing cultural diversity.
“We have a lot of diversity in Goose Creek and we’re proud of that and we just try to help everyone feel excited and important about who they are, and to be proud of their diversity, whatever that is,” Alayon said.
There are 14 different foreign-born countries represented at the school, and most of them are Spanish-speaking countries.
Goose Creek Elementary celebrated the final day of Hispanic Heritage Month by inviting students to wear their favorite team jersey (like sports teams or outfits representing their home countries). Students participated in English and Spanish read-alouds and played games incorporating different languages and facts about other countries.
BCSD provided photo
“It’s definitely shaped us to be culturally sensitive and to accept people where we are and learn that we do things differently,” Alayon said.
The teachers want the students to know it’s okay to be different – that it’s okay the other people eat different food or look different.
“It doesn’t mean one way is right and one way is wrong, it just means that it’s different and we should accept each other’s’ diversity – celebrate each other’s’ diversity,” Alayon said. “It’s not a one size fits all.”