Days before a group of Chaska High School students were set to enjoy their summer vacation, they visited Carver Elementary School to teach children about culture and diversity.
The 65 Spanish language students went to classrooms in the school to teach the traditions and customs of various Hispanic countries. The June 4 and 5 presentations covered various dances, instruments and social issues.
“It was their idea, they said it is the kids we need to educate,” said their teacher Maria Ochoa-Schindler. The idea was formed after several racial incidents surfaced during the course of the school year. The incidents included a racist image and slurs toward African-American students.
“My students brought up how unfair (media coverage) was, when a very small group was causing issues and they felt everyone was being punished for it,” she added, noting the class had many students of different ethnicities. “We all get along really well, this is our family.”
When Mya Schultz, who is a junior in the class, saw television broadcasts and articles about the racial incidents at Chaska High School from various outlets in the Twin Cities area, she was disappointed.
“I was frustrated, because it’s such a small group of people at Chaska and I hate the reputation that is given to us,” Schultz said. “I think that’s wrong that it’s portrayed on all of us.”
To help the next generation, Schultz and her class took time out of their busy schedules to create presentations depicting Hispanic culture.
Schultz’s group taught about current events and issues in Cuba for 40 minutes. The elementary students were very interested in the presentation, she added.
“One kid asked a lot about the history of Cuba and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Schultz said. The group ended the lesson teaching students about the salsa dance.
Some presentations focused on indigenous people in Latin America. One taught students about different foods in other countries, including snakes, monkeys and bugs.
“That taught students it is not a bad thing to eat all those things,” Ochoa-Schindler said.
Another taught about Equatorial Guinea, the only country in Africa with Spanish as its official language.
In another activity, the children were divided into different groups and were told they could have candy. However, some were only allowed to walk while others could run.
“They had to make a solution how to make it fair,” Ochoa-Schindler said.
“The younger kids looked up and saw the older students spreading a good message,” said Jessica Stewart, personalized learning coach at Carver Elementary. “I thought (the presentations) were fabulous because it wasn’t just about learning about other cultures, but kindness and gratitude.”
The presentations also helped students of color at Carver Elementary. About 12 percent of students speak another language at home, the most common being Somali and Spanish.
“It’s affirming to them they are seen and heard. The kids did such a great job,” Stewart said.
Stewart and Ochoa-Schindler helped coordinate the effort.
The activities were completely planned by the students.
“We’re hoping to make this part of our curriculum in the future. It was a great experience, this is what we wanted, we did our piece, we don’t know if it will make changes, but at least we got to teach kids what we think about equity,” Ochoa-Schindler said.
Stewart agreed with the sentiment and said she’d like to have presentations like that more often in Carver Elementary.
“It was a very positive note. They felt they represented who we really are,” Ochoa-Schindler said.