Washington GT Magnet Elementary PTA Hosts Hispanic Cultural Night

On April 12, the Washington GT Magnet Elementary School PTA hosted a Hispanic Cultural Night as a learning event for students and a community building and family engagement event for school families.  Washington Elementary is one of the most diverse schools in Wake County.  One of the goals of the Washington PTA is to increase diversity on its board and at all PTA and school events.

Last year, the Washington PTA was one of fifty schools nationwide to be awarded a grant from the National PTA for events during “Take Your Family to School Week” in February 2015.  As part of the grant, Washington planned a first ever Cultural Night where they hosted a Holi celebration and learned about the culture of India.  The event was a huge success and resulted in more Indian families becoming involved in PTA and in school activities.  The event was also covered by the News and Observer.

Because of the overwhelming success of this first event, the PTA hosted its second annual Cultural Night, this year highlighting the many Hispanic countries represented at Washington.  To begin planning for the event, the PTA brought together over 20 Hispanic families during an evening event and dinner at the beginning of March.  “It was extremely important to involve the Hispanic families at our school in the planning,” said Julie von Haefen, PTA President.  “We wanted them to feel empowered and excited about sharing their culture with their own children, with their children’s classmates and with the school community as a whole.”  At the planning dinner, four Spanish translators lead brainstorming groups so the families felt comfortable sharing ideas about what the night should include.  “Many ideas were shared and excitement began to grow among the families.  One parent said that she was ‘so happy just that someone asked’ her to share her culture and ideas, and that no one had ever done that before. It was really heartwarming and inspirational to hear this interest in becoming more involved with a school event from someone who had never felt empowered to do so before.”

To get Washington students excited about the event, the PTA made a presentation to all students the Friday prior to the event, teaching them about what Hispanic culture is, where Hispanic countries are located, and showed them videos of some of the groups who would be performing.  Two Hispanic parents, who became leaders on the planning committee, came to speak to the students in Spanish and taught them about their home countries of Peru and El Salvador.  “After the presentation, students were enthusiastic and went home to tell their families about the upcoming event, which helped increase attendance and excitement about Hispanic Night.”

As a direct result of the brainstorming meeting, the PTA decided to highlight four areas of Hispanic culture.  The event included the following activities and performances:

Music: Professional Latin folk music and dance group “Flor y Canto” performed, along with Mexican singer Valeria Fernandez.  Washington students performed traditional songs and dances that were taught during specials in music and dance during the school day. Students also made make-and-take musical instruments.
Dance: Sube Ritmo, the Latin dance team from NC State performed a salsa and bachata dance.  An amazing dance group from the Takiri Academy performed Latin American folk dances.
Food: Many Hispanic families prepared and served a free buffet of delicious and authentic food, drinks and desserts from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Peru, Honduras and more.  The PTA purchased additional food to supplement the donated dishes, including desserts from a local Mexican bakery and authentic pupusas from a local vendor.
Art: Mexican artist Cornelio Campos displayed his painting and demonstrated his techniques.  The PTA also provided many crafts for kids, such as paper flowers, coloring sheets and cut paper banners.  Hispanic parents handmade 100 mini pinatas which were available for children to decorate.  A display of artifacts was also available with items brought by families from their home countries.

Many Hispanic families wore traditional clothing from their home countries and Washington students were invited on stage to show the community where they were from so that the students could see how diverse the school is.  The students also participated in a scavenger hunt at the event, identifying flags of the various Hispanic countries which were hung in the cafeteria as well as other artifacts and foods.  Washington also invited a member of the Mexican Consulate in Raleigh to attend as well as other local Hispanic dignitaries.  The PTA also reached out to the Latin sororities and fraternities at NC State University and members of those organizations volunteered at the event, serving food and helping with crafts.  WCPSS Parent Academy also came with information about WCPSS programming for Hispanic families.  At the end of the evening, the PTA raffled a large pinata to attendees, which generated excitement and was a great end to the event.

The evening was a huge success and the attendance was very large.  “The event engaged our Hispanic families in the educational experience of their students, made them feel welcomed and comfortable at Washington and they know that they are a valued part of our school community.  We were also excited to teach our non-Hispanic students and families about this wonderful culture and, of course, to have fun!”

If you are interested in planning a similar event at your school, or have questions and want more information, please contact Julie von Haefen, Washington PTA President at julievonhaefen@yahoo.com.