'Fiesta de Colores' highlights Hispanic cultures

Posted: Friday, January 25, 2008

When young kids have contact with different languages and cultures, they can enrich their lives forever, said Leo Novoa, a former Spanish teacher for Juneau Community Charter School.

"Sometimes what is cool is how you present it," said Novoa, a Juneau resident from Santiago, Chile.

Juneau Community Charter School is hosting its annual "Fiesta de Colores" from 6 to 8 p.m. at 430 Fourth St. The community is invited to the free event, which celebrates Hispanic culture with crafts, food, music and dancing.

The public elementary school includes Spanish language classes and Hispanic cultural education as part of its curriculum, which culminates in the annual celebration, teacher Sheila Keller said.

"It's really very exciting for the students," she said.

Keller said the education is beneficial in several ways, one of which is that students gain some proficiency in the Spanish language.

"More importantly for our school is that it's multicultural education," she said.

Of the 65 students enrolled in the charter school this year, 8 percent of the students identify their ethnicity as Hispanic, said Margie Hamburger, a parent and an administrative assistant for the school. Of the 5,109 students enrolled in the district, 5 percent identify their ethnicity as Hispanic, she said.

"Compared to the district, I guess we have a higher percentage," Hamburger said.

Nevertheless, the intention of the curriculum is to widen the worldview of all the students, she said.

"Kids have a session with language and culture at least two times a week," Hamburger said. "It's something that we work with weekly, so it kind of grew into having a celebration of the cultures of Spanish-speaking (countries)."

Keller said the teachers aim to make the lessons and activities fun and engaging, and not just have students memorizing Spanish terms or phrases.

"The students learn the language by doing - by responding to commands," she said.

The annual "Fiesta de Colores" allows students to interact with members of the Spanish-speaking community in a festive environment, Keller said.

Novoa said the Hispanic community is growing in Juneau and becoming more organized. He believes the community will become even more organized over the next decade.

"I can see in the future the Latin or Hispanic community will have a place where they can meet and do these traditional things that we are missing," he said.

Tonight's event will include different crafts and foods from multiple cultures, as well as dance and musical performances.

For more information, people can call the school at 586-2526.

• Contact reporterEric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.

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