YORKVILLE – Hola! Hola! Como estas?
That was the musical greeting from Spanish-speaking students to their schoolmates during an all-school assembly at Yorkville’s Circle Center Grade School on Oct. 14 in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
Hello! Hello! How are you?
The School District Y115 kindergarten through third grade students clearly were excited to learn about Hispanic culture from their peers.
There was singing, dancing and a plethora of fun facts about famous Hispanic-Americans and their contributions to science, sports, politics and the performing arts.
Hosting the assembly was English language teacher Karen Schmidt, who provides intensive instruction for students who speak Spanish or another language other than English in the home.
Students learned that Hispanic Heritage Week was initiated by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 and expanded to a full month by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. The celebration runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.
Schmidt showed the students pictures of famous Hispanic-Americans and asked if they could identify them.
While the students did not seem to recognize Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, their arms were immediately thrust into the air when it came to singing sensation Jennifer Lopez and baseball star Roberto Clemente.
The assembly cheered as Schmidt showed photographs of Circle Center teachers and students who are of Hispanic origin.
Schmidt, who was has lived and traveled extensively in Latin America, displayed clothing, artwork and other artifacts of Hispanic culture, including items from Dias de los Muertes, or Day of the Dead.
“It’s not meant to be scary,” Schmidt told the audience. “It’s a special day for families to remember the people they love who are no longer with us. They honor their loved ones.”
Many of the students performing for the assembly were wearing colorful clothing expressing their Hispanic heritage.
They included Alayana Villanueva, Josslynn Gomez and Julianna Mendoza, all kindergartners in teacher Elyssa Sanchez’ classroom.
“They were really excited about this. They have been practicing their songs for weeks,” Sanchez said.
Those songs included “Recuerdame,” or “Remember Me,” and the highly danceable “La Raspa,” which had the entire assembly stomping to the sound of castanets.
Ever the language teacher, Schmidt also gave the students a lesson about words of Spanish origin, including breeze, patio and mosquito.
Schmidt has more than 25 students at Circle Center, who come to her in small groups of six or less from their regular classrooms to receive instruction in English. The teacher also has another 20 or so students at Yorkville Grade School.
While most of Schmidt’s students are Spanish-speaking, she also teaches English to youngsters who are Vietnamese, Romanian and Lithuanian.
While in high school, Schmidt spent a year in Mexico as a foreign exchange student. She later studied in Ecuador as a college student.
Schmidt worked for three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica, where she worked on a children’s theater project.
“I think everybody needs to be exposed to different cultures,” Schmidt said.