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Culbreth Middle School hosts CHCCS Hispanic Heritage Month kickoff celebration

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Durham-based dance troupe Takiri Folclor Latino performed a cumbia dance at the National Hispanic Heritage Month kickoff event hosted by CHCCS at Culbreth Middle School on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools hosted a National Hispanic Heritage Month kickoff event on Sept. 14 at Culbreth Middle School that featured folk dance performances, cuisine from different Hispanic cultures, an information fair and a Zumba class.

National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 and is a federally recognized celebration of Hispanic and Latin American people’s contributions to American culture and history. Sept. 15 was chosen as the start date for this celebration because it coincides with the independence of several Latin American countries.

Lucas Paulsen, the principal of Culbreth Middle, said this year’s kickoff was the first of its kind for the district.

“Hispanic Heritage Month has been a celebration that we’ve done nationally for a long time, but this year we’ve finally been able to get it together to celebrate our Hispanic cultures here at Culbreth and the community,” Paulsen said.

Tracey Lockhart, the assistant principal of Culbreth Middle, said the Hispanic Heritage Month kickoff represents a renewed effort to celebrate the CHCCS community’s cultural diversity and multilingual initiatives. 

Lockhart also said there is a large proportion of students enrolled in Culbreth’s Spanish-English dual language program. Culbreth is one of two CHCCS middle schools that has a dual language curriculum, along with McDougle Middle School. CHCCS offers dual-language Spanish-English and Mandarin-English programs at multiple elementary and middle schools across the district.

According to the district website, the dual language program provides students an opportunity to participate in an enriched educational model, which immerses them in two languages and two cultures from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Cora Dooling, a sixth grader at Culbreth who is enrolled in the school's dual-language program, said she thought the kickoff was intended to showcase the school’s Spanish-speaking community. 

She said that she and a friend who was also at the event began taking Spanish at Frank Porter Graham Elementary School, which also offers a dual-language program, and already have a foundation in the language from their upbringing.

“We both come from Hispanic backgrounds, so we entered the dual-language program here,” Dooling said. 

District translator and former CHCCS parent Sandra Pereira said she was pleasantly surprised at how many people came to the event and thought that its success was partly owed to the school’s dual-language program.

For students who have recently moved to the U.S. from a non-English-speaking country, Culbreth offers advanced language instruction and integration services through CHCCS’s district-wide Newcomer Program. 

“They have ESL teachers who work with them through the entire day to adapt them to the curriculum and the school culture in the U.S.,” Norma Centeno, an employee at the CHCCS International Welcome Center, said.

The center had an information booth at Thursday's event which displayed some of their services — including language placement exams and educational guidance for families that have just arrived in the country.

Other organizations that advertised their services at the kickoff included El Centro Hispano, Girls on the Run and the Chapel Hill Police Department Crisis Unit.

Culbreth hallways displayed posters made by students with facts about Spanish-speaking countries’ history, culture and geography.

Takiri Folclor Latino, a Durham-based Latin American dance troupe, performed a cumbia dance at the event. Cumbia is a style of folk music and dance that originated in Colombia and is influenced by African, European and Indigenous cultures.

Event attendees could also participate in a free Zumba lesson and sample arepas and tostadas prepared by parent volunteers.

JJ Richardson, the parent of a sixth-grader at Culbreth, said she had attended the Heritage Month kickoff to honor her children’s Hispanic roots.

“My husband’s from Mexico, so we’re a bilingual and bicultural family,” Richardson said. “So this is something we really celebrate, and enjoy and value.”

@phoebemartel1

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