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5 steps to celebrating Hispanic Heritage in the classroom

A teacher's guide to authentically engaging students with cultural diversity

Author: Carmen Maciel

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Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated in the United States from September 15 to October 15. As educators in DFW, we are fortunate to serve a diverse population of scholars, whose roots are especially important to highlight during this time.

But when teaching about and celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, it can be hard to know where to start. Which countries do you highlight? Which important figures should you focus on? And how do you plan lessons around it all? Ensuring that all scholars feel included can feel overwhelming.

Don’t worry! This is a time to celebrate, learn, enjoy and honor the diversity we see in our classrooms every day. Here are a few pointers to get you started.

This article is part of our Hispanic Heritage Month campaign to honor inspiring educators. Check out other stories like Carmen's here.

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Step 1: Be in the know

In order to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month authentically in our classrooms, it is important to know what it is and why it is celebrated in the U.S.

The observation began as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson, and in 1988 was expanded to cover a month span under President Ronald Reagan.

The purpose was to celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

September 15 is important because it is the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico celebrates its independence on September 16, and Chile celebrates theirs September 18. These are all Latin-American countries, and it is important to note the dates of their independence to understand why we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month when we do.

Step 2: Be authentic

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Whether or not you consider yourself Hispanic, understanding and being in tune with your identity is key to not only celebrating Hispanic heritage, but also to bringing your whole self into the classroom.

I am a first-generation college graduate, cisgender, Mexican-American, Latina daughter of immigrants, born and raised in Dallas, Texas.

Many of the scholars I teach have stories similar to my own, but it is important that I do not equate this with meaning we have the same experiences.

Hispanic Heritage Month is not a time to highlight the accomplishments of only Mexican influencers, for example, but to highlight Hispanic influencers of varied backgrounds as well. If you do not consider yourself Hispanic, please do not try to be. Instead, as you are teaching your lessons, show your excitement about celebrating along with your students and validating their experiences as Hispanic-Americans. 

Step 3: Be aware of your context

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What context do you operate in? Are you at an elementary school? A high school? Are the majority of your students Latinx? What neighborhood do you teach in? Does your school do a school-wide celebration? We need to be aware of the context we operate in, in order to create a more equitable learning experience for all of our scholars.

For example, I teach at an elementary school where the majority of our students are Latinx, and we host school-wide assemblies where families are invited every month. With this in mind, I decided to have each grade level on my campus represent one of the seven Latin-American countries mentioned above during our school’s assembly. This way, our Latinx families and scholars can feel represented, and our entire school will have the opportunity to learn about each country.

There is something special about seeing one’s heritage being celebrated, and this is why my school’s focus is on these Latin-American countries. If your school sets up a celebration of Hispanic heritage, that does not mean you should not teach it in your classroom.

In my classroom for example, we will focus on our assigned country to prepare for our assembly, but still study other Hispanic countries so scholars can gain a fuller understanding of what Hispanic heritage encompasses.

No matter the grade level, writing, crafting, singing, dancing or reading about Hispanic heritage can have a lasting impact on all scholars because they may see themselves reflected in their classrooms.

Step 4: Be inclusive

What about scholars and families who are not Hispanic? Why should we include them, and how do we explain the importance of celebrating Hispanic heritage to them, too?

Hispanic Heritage Month is a celebration of diversity in this country. Whenever I am teaching about other people or cultures, I am purposeful in explaining the “why.”

It is important we learn about other cultures and people because the more we know about them, the less afraid we are about their “otherness,” and the more likely we are to work collectively and coexist peacefully.

This message is especially important to convey not only because of the political climate of our country, but because of our increasingly interconnected world. If this message is conveyed in our classrooms, we are being educators who champion the identities of all our scholars and are preparing them to be globally minded.  

Hispanic Heritage Month gives us the opportunity to bring our diverse experiences into the classroom and celebrate the experiences of many of our scholars. It is a time to ensure our students feel seen by celebrating their unique heritage.

By including all scholars in meaningful observation of diversity in our country, we can create an equitable learning experience for all. And, as a teacher, you have the exciting opportunity to facilitate this celebration of diversity!

Step 5: Recruit the next generation

It doesn’t stop with the students in your classroom. You have the chance to recruit the next generation of teachers who will understand the significance of the profession and the opportunity we all have for positive social impact.

Carmen Maciel teaches Kindergarten at Uplift Lee Primary, a partnership school between Uplift Education and Grand Prairie ISD.