The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:
Can learning about your own cultural identity and background play a role in your academic educational success?
According to research, students who participate in art projects and experience success, improve their academic performance and acquire more self-confidence. Research also shows that when Latino students’ cultural heritage is acknowledged and valued, they become more resilient.
The students who join our workshops are from diverse background; some are first and some are second generation; some are bilingual and some monolingual English. What they have in common is a mutual desire to learn about the Latino culture by instructors who serve as role models. Through this interaction, the students acquire s sense of the richness of the Latino cultures.
This newly acquired knowledge will accompany the students in their high school experience and will allow them to participate and appreciate artistic and cultural endeavors and possible lead a cultural project.
The recital is an opportunity for the students to talk about what they learned during the sessions and to demonstrate their accomplishments. The students are exuberant with pride when they describe their art pieces and talk about the artistic processes they used, articulate their goals, read their essays and poetry, perform their musical program (singing or playing the recorder) and perform their dance learned during the recital. The group also takes part in community presentations. At this time, because of the corona-virus we have no plans, but in the fall, toward the end of October we plan to participate in Dia de los Muertos Festivals in Nampa and Boise.
At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:
5 – Develop and refine artistic techniques and work presentation – The students learned and practiced their song on their recorders and learned the accompaniment to a traditional song in preparation for final presentation at the recital. They also wrote creatively. We live in a society where Spanish is not valued, where bilingual students hide the fact that they speak Spanish for fear of being marginalized. Here, some students decide to write their poetry in Spanish.
#6 – Performing: Convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work – The students learned a folkloric dance from Jalisco (the SW region of Mexico), located the place in a map and discussed traditions in comparison to where their families were from.
#8 – Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work – By describing their own experience working with the artists, the students realized the meaning behind their own work and realize that there is always meaning behind any art piece or project. At the recital, the students read their essays, described their art pieces and talked about the process.
The clearly defined goal of the recital at the end of the program, serve as an incentive for the students to prepare their artistic work. They listen and depend on each other and take leadership whenever possible. Students have told us that at the end of the program, they feel valued by their parents, siblings, and extended family..
Prevention programs like this make a tremendous impact in the Latino community. This program motivates middle school students to look for and appreciate learning opportunities in school and out in the community, and to begin preparing for college while in high school.
whenever possible, parents are invited to volunteer and attend some of the workshops.
The clearly defined goal of the Parent Recital at the end of the program, allows the parents the opportunity to celebrate their kids’ success and provides the motivation of the program. It is an opportunity for the parents and families to celebrate and value their children. The program provides the main dish, beverages, and cake, but families bring a dish to share. The students look confident and proud.
To some people this may look superfluous, but in a competitive society where many of these students fall through the cracks, a celebration that focuses on the students’ commitments to staying in school is quite important.
By bringing the cultural presentations at community festivals, a stronger community bond is built. All of the above makes an impact in the lives of the young participants and their families.
When the project is complete, you will reflect on the project as a whole. What worked best? What would you do differently? If someone else completed a similar project, what recommendations would you have for others?
At the end of the project, we feel satisfied once more to have touched the lives of a group of young Latino middle school students. As years go by, we will meet them again and they will tell us what a difference this program made in their lives!
We still need to focus on recruiting, this is one of the most challenging aspects of the program because it is on a Saturday and it is hard for many kids to give up their Saturday TV watching, etc. But the students who join have a great experience and they look forward to return every Saturday.
The students are always mesmerized by the quality of instructors; the art instructor is amazing and will often engage the group in conversations as they so diligently paint. They love the dancing be it ballroom or folklorico. Wax flower making is always fun for the group.
Another popular workshop is “Cuidate!” which means Take Care of Yourself! And deals with peer pressure. Mental Health was presented by a counselor and unsurprisingly the subject of depression came up. We think than anything that we can do to help young people find ways to keep optimistic about their lives is a plus.
Our recommendations to others working with Latino youth, would be to include Latino instructors and artists. Working with Latino role models – artists, instructors, and presenters – the students get inspired and learn that there is a community willing to support them in their educational endeavors