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Students showcase biculturalism during Hispanic Heritage Month

‘This history is not separate’

Grand Rapids —While waving flags, eating sweet treats called conchas and wearing bright, colorful traditional clothing, Southwest Elementary School–Academia Biligue students kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month.

Students, staff and parents gathered outside at the beginning of the school day, while 21 students proudly represented their cultures by marching in a procession with flags representing 21 Spanish-speaking countries.

From left, sixth-graders Anay Lopez and Harrison Johnson lead the procession

“Everybody is here and happy,” said sixth-grader Harelis Alicea, who is from Puerto Rico.

“I love the dancing and the food,” said fifth-grader Romeo Garcia, who celebrated with his mom, Miriam Hernandez.

“We like to celebrate our culture and we are proud to be Mexican,” Hernandez said.

Assistant Principal Kelly Aponte said the event served as a great way to begin National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. The month celebrates the histories, cultures and contributions of Hispanic Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. 

Sept. 15 is the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, respectively. 

“Our commitment as a dual-language school is to ensure that our students become bilingual and bicultural,” said Aponte, who is Mexican. 

Schoolwide, students will focus on themes like heroes, food, traditions and important celebrations. 

Of about 670 students who attend the preschool through sixth-grade school, 83 percent are Hispanic. 

‘Knowing about Hispanic heritage and Hispanics’ contributions will enrich our school and students, and bring diversity. Scholars will understand this history is not separate from the rest of the events that happened in U.S. history.’

– Assistant Principal Kelly Aponte

Part of the school’s bicultural component is for students to become aware of Hispanic peoples’ contributions to U.S. history, Aponte said.  For Hispanic students, “They will be able to see there are people– heroes in history.. who look like them.”  

Staff members cheer for the students as they march

For non-Hispanic students, “That builds empathy, tolerance and compassion for other groups. Knowing about Hispanic heritage and Hispanics’ contributions will enrich our school and students and bring diversity. Scholars will understand this history is not separate from the rest of the events that happened in U.S. history.”

Third-grade teacher Areli Berlanga’s students are studying important Hispanic Americans in Grand Rapids and Michigan. “It’s an area, an opportunity, for them to be able to experience their culture and feel proud.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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