Rowlett Academy continues its celebration of Hispanic heritage

Donning ponchos and polleras, a line of elementary students carried the flags of 21 Spanish-speaking countries into the courtyard at Rowlett Academy on Thursday.

They were joined by hundreds of peers during the school’s annual Hispanic Heritage Celebration. Singing, dancing and lots of smiling followed the opening flag parade.

“For some of the students, they have a Spanish background or families,” said Patricia Rettig, a dual language instructor. “They are exposed to the language and the culture, but another half of the school is not. In our classes, they get a chance to interact with a person from another country.”

Rettig is from Argentina, while her fellow instructors hail from Puerto Rico and Honduras, among other places around the world. From Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, during National Hispanic Heritage Month, their students learned about Spanish-speaking countries through art, geography and history.

“When we work with the students, we also offer a little bit about what our cultures bring in to the Spanish program,” said Raquel Ray, another dual language instructor.

At Rowlett, 3500 Ninth St. E, the children learn Spanish from kindergarten through fifth grade. Through the learning process, students become more proficient in their native language as well, instructor Mercedes Fajardo-Wilson said.

Out of nearly 920 students, about 26 percent are Hispanic, while 54 percent are white and 13 percent are black. Less than 5 percent identify as multiracial, and 2 percent fall under the category of Asian, Pacific Islander, American Indian or Alaska Native.

Rowlett Academy held its annual Hispanic Heritage Celebration on Thursday morning. Giuseppe Sabella

Xavier Morales enrolled at Rowlett as a fifth-grader this year, and he co-hosted the celebration on Thursday morning. Morales said he traveled from Cuba to the United States at 7 years old.

“I really like that everybody comes together, even through they’re Spanish or English,” he said of the event.

Morales and his co-host, Addison Hartley, said their favorite song was La Bamba. It was one of many songs used to set the stage for Thursday’s celebration.

Students performed cumbia, a traditional Colombian dance, while La Pollera Colora played in the background. The chorus sang to La Feria de Cepillin, a hit song by the Mexican singer Ricardo Gutierrez.

“I really love to prepare songs with the kids, and I love to teach my native language to them,” Rettig said. “You have the kids always open to learn.”

Giuseppe Sabella, education reporter for the Bradenton Herald, holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida. He spent time at the Independent Florida Alligator, the Gainesville Sun and the Florida Times-Union. His coverage of education in Manatee County earned him a first place prize in the Florida Society of News Editors’ 2019 Journalism Contest. Giuseppe also spent one year in Charleston, W.Va., earning a first-place award for investigative reporting.