Celebrating Spanish Culture at Post Oak

Celebrating Spanish Culture at Post Oak
Irma Alarcon, Elementary Associate Teacher, with Andrea Novak, High School Spanish Teacher, and Patricia Onofre, Middle School Spanish Specialist

It all started during lunch over thirty years ago in 1991. The Spanish teachers were talking about how to bring and share our culture with Post Oak students. In the group was Alma Almendariz, a Primary assistant teacher.

We had a wonderful idea—we said, “Let’s celebrate Cinco de Mayo.” What a beautiful way to bring our culture and traditions to Post Oak, we all thought.

And what started with an idea during a conversation became an annual event, celebrated with performances, presentations, and traditional dances. Parents were invited to participate in the planning of this event, and the Spanish teachers chose the dances and the costumes and taught the choreography to the children. This gave parents and faculty an opportunity to share our Spanish language with students through dance and music. First, the students performed in the old Library, then the music room, and year by year the audience grew more and more. Students from Primary performed for the Post Oak community for 20 years. Now this celebration continues in the classroom.

Primary children learn the steps of a traditional dance

In 1992, the Spanish teachers again had a meeting, and this time we wanted to bring the history of Día de los Muertos to Post Oak. We wanted to show the students how to create an altar and teach them the symbolism of each of the offerings. Each year the students in Upper Elementary and Middle School present reports and perform skits to the school community in front of the communal ofrenda. We have kept this tradition alive for three decades now! Post Oak continues to honor this beautiful tradition in many creative ways. Children decorate the ofrendas and share memories of their loved ones. For more than 10 years, Upper Elementary students have visited Casa Ramirez Folk Art Gallery to attend a workshop about the meaning of the ofrendas.

elementary students learn about Día de los Muertos at Casa Ramirez Folk Gallery

Upper Elementary students visit Casa Ramirez Folk Art Gallery

In 2022 the beautiful communal ofrenda was made by Ninfa Bridges, and each environment participated in creating its own ofrenda. During this time, the Spanish teachers shared stories and learned with their students about the meaning of the Day of the Dead, and children brought photos of their departed loved ones and told stories. In Primary and Lower Elementary, the students helped set up their ofrenda, decorated las calaveras, the skulls, learned about the traditional Catrina, and made flores de papel (tissue paper marigold flowers). In Upper Elementary, students created their own little ofrendas to honor a relative or a person important to them. They also wrote and presented reports and performed skits about the Day of the Dead. After all the preparations and the ofrendas were ready, we waited for the spirit of our ancestors and loved ones to visit the ofrendas. We enjoyed with them the delicious pan de muerto, the bread of the dead. “Let’s celebrate life!”

Upper Elementary students in front of the ofrenda

“Let's go to the market. Let's celebrate our native and traditional food.” For more than a decade, the Upper Elementary Spanish teachers and students have visited the Houston Farmers Market, the Bolillos Bakery, and the Mexican Restaurant. What better way to learn about the food than going to the market and being able to talk to the vendors in Spanish and enjoy the colors, aromas, and taste of the fresh fruits and vegetables that are offered? We can hear “Me gusta el agua de coco” or “Un mango por favor.” This is a sensorial experience that is continued at the bakery, with the smell of freshly baked bread, sweet conchas, churros, cookies, hot tortillas, and more. May I eat the churro now? Puedo comer el churro ya? We continue our field trip by practicing ordering in Spanish at a Mexican restaurant: “Yo quiero una quesadilla por favor.” After enjoying a delicious lunch, we return to school with our hearts and tummies full of memories and unforgettable experiences.

Moving over to Middle School

Culture is one of the pillars of the Spanish curriculum. In the Middle School, in addition to the celebrations already mentioned like Day of the Dead, we celebrate culture by participating in events such as cooking a meal as a community. For this activity students research a traditional dish from a Spanish-speaking country, find a recipe, and fully prepare the dish.

Throughout the year, students are exposed to music, dance, and other artistic expressions. They read and explore authentic literary works from Latin American authors. They learn about various holidays and traditions and their significance. In addition, students in the heritage class explore their own cultural identity with ongoing projects on a variety of topics. Celebrating culture takes place in many forms throughout the year. We want all students to learn about the rich diversity of cultures that makes up the Spanish-speaking world.

Middle School students experience the market

High School Traditions

Following the example set in earlier years, we explored how to continue the celebration of the Hispanic culture at the High School, which launched its first class in 2012. Andrea Novak, the Spanish teacher at the High School, was excited to share her Mexican heritage with the students. In 2014, we established a rotation of three Mexican celebrations: Mexican Independence, Día de Muertos, and Posadas, celebrating one of these traditions each year. The idea is that a student celebrates the same tradition in their freshmen and senior years. This way, they remember what they did when they just started their journey at the High School, and it becomes a more meaningful celebration.

High School students perform a traditional dance for parents and friends

For Mexican Independence, each Spanish class prepares a mariachi song, learns a traditional Mexican dance, or prepares the ceremony with the Mexican flag. For Day of the Dead, crafts are an important part of the celebration: making sugar skulls and decorating them, painting skulls, making papel picado and paper flowers, putting together an ofrenda, and learning how to do traditional make-up for the celebration. For Posadas, preparing a traditional play called “Pastorela,” learning villancicos, which are traditional songs for the celebration, and making piñatas and breaking them are part of the tradition.

These celebrations are comprehensive, and every class prepares something for the celebration. On the day of the celebration, each student cooks something traditional for the specific celebration at home, bringing it to school for a potluck with the whole High School. Students learning Chinese, teachers, and staff are the special guests. A few years ago, some Hispanic students asked if they could invite their parents to the celebration. The answer was an absolute yes because in Hispanic celebrations all family is invited; it is part of the fun.

And now, what are we going to celebrate? The options are endless. Let’s learn Spanish and celebrate our culture together!

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