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Celebrations such as Hispanic Heritage Month provide opportunities to enrich learning.

Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15) is in full swing. Now is a great time for students to celebrate and explore the diverse customs of Latin America.

Parents can be creative in helping children discover new customs and languages. Food is a fun and educational way to start. Our family likes to sample foods from various Latin American countries. We love tamales in our house, and it is fun to get Guatemalan and Mexican tamales and compare the differing but delicious flavors.COURTESY PHOTO: WILLAMETTE CONNECTIONS ACADEMY - Carolina Balan

Another fun way to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month is to let your child's interests be your guide. Your baseball buff might want to learn about Dominican American home run slugger Sammy Sosa and maybe you have a space fan who would be over the moon about the first Latina astronaut, Ellen Ochoa. Or, perhaps your little one might be interested in learning Spanish.

A senior at our school, Caroline, is pursuing a career in language skills. Her parents emigrated from South Korea many years ago so she's fluent in Korean. While Caroline is taking an advanced class in Spanish, she's also learning Chinese, sign language and German.

When Caroline was studying for a semester in China a few years back she faced big language challenges.

"I realized how frustrating it was not being able to communicate, having misunderstandings based on wrong translations and not knowing the culture. This made me want to learn more languages and become a helpful voice," Caroline said.

My parents had lots of immigration issues when they came to Oregon from Mexico decades ago. As the first-born and the first to learn English in my family, I helped my parents navigate through those struggles. Being bilingual also allows me to help others in my community. I was at the doctor's office recently and helped a mom communicate with her child's doctor. It was so rewarding to have skills that benefit others.

Attending festivals happening around the state is another good activity to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Every weekend during Hispanic Heritage Month there is food, entertainment and more in Portland at a Latinx Hispanic Festival called JUNTOSPdx. I encourage families to check out TravelOregon.com to find these kinds of cultural events going on year-round. Community programs like concerts, museums or theatrical performances offer diverse learning experiences.

Traditional music and dance provide great avenues to enjoy Hispanic heritage or other ethnicities. Salsa, bachata, merengue — there is so much good music out there.

Kids love reading stories about the traditions of other populations. I enjoy learning about Central and South American history, especially the Mayan and Aztec tribes.

I love teaching my children about their own history, but I also love teaching them about other cultures. Recently, we planned an imaginary trip to Europe where we each picked a country to study and learned a few phrases from that nation's language. Even if we never go, it's fun.

What Spanish-speaking country would you and your family like to visit? What foods would you like to try there?

Hispanic Heritage Month is just one of the many occasions you can explore other cultures and languages with children. When I talk with my students about their cultural awareness, I begin by taking an interest in my students' cultures. We're all so interesting!

I like what one student shared in class as we discussed our cultures — "The world would be boring if we were all the same." I love the fact that this country is filled with so many different cultures to learn about and appreciate.

Carolina Balan is a third-grade teacher with Willamette Connections Academy. To learn more about the school or its enrollment process, visit willametteconnectionsacademy.com or call 800-382-6010.


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