Caroline County joined communities around the country in celebration on May 5, when students, teachers, and parents gathered in Caroline High School’s cafeteria for the school system’s first Cinco de Mayo Fiesta.
Organized by the Parents as Educational Partners committee, the Cinco de Mayo event aimed to increase both cultural awareness and parental involvement in the schools.
“We’re trying to build appreciation for diversity in the county,” said Director of Educational Programs Cathy McConnell.
Cinco de Mayo is celebrated by both Mexicans and Americans in commemoration of the victory of Mexican troops over Napoleonic forces when the French invaded Mexico in 1862. Some scholars claim that the French troops’ unexpected defeat prevented Napoleon from providing aid to the Confederate Army, a move that could have changed the course of U.S. history.
In 2005, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution recognizing the holiday’s historical significance in the United States.
At Caroline High School May 5, the festivities were a mix of traditional Cinco de Mayo fun and educational activities. Students with brightly colored scarves tied around their waists led families in singing traditional songs and presented reports they had written on famous Latinos, including singer Ricky Martin and Colombian racecar driver Juan Pablo Montoya Roldán.
A raffle of prizes donated by businesses such as Lowe’s and Ashland Ace Hardware was also enthusiastically received.
Caroline’s Cinco de Mayo Fiesta was more than just a one-time event, however. It also represented the first step in the school system’s effort to increase the involvement of non-English-speaking parents in the schools.
The school system’s English Speakers of Other Languages program contains approximately 60 students, almost all of whom are Latino. These students’ parents speak little or no English, which often hampers their involvement in their children’s education.
The PEP committee was formed as a way to respond to this population’s needs and to bring the school system in line with the requirements of Title III of No Child Left Behind, which deals with language instruction for limited English proficient and immigrant students.
“We want to help parents understand how to better approach the school,” said ESOL teacher and PEP committee member Marvin Srivastava.
Toward that end, parents attending the Cinco de Mayo Fiesta completed a survey, available in both English and Spanish, about their involvement with the schools. Questions included “How many times have you met with your child’s teacher?” and “Would you prefer to have materials and important notices sent home in your native language?”
The survey responses, said Srivastava, will help the school system determine the best approach to take toward increasing these parents’ involvement.
“The goal is really to build that relationship between school and home, and to make parents comfortable enough to come to activities,” said Dolly Lindsay, director of elementary education. “It’s a work in progress.”
McConnell agreed. As she welcomed the almost-entirely Latino audience to the Fiesta, she issued them a challenge: “What we want you to do next year is to bring three friends!”