By ANGIE SCHMITT
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN — For weeks, Eagle Heights Academy students have spent their social studies classes researching a Latin American country, their music lessons learning the Mexican Hat Dance and their after-school hours speaking Spanish.
The monthlong lesson in Hispanic culture culminated Thursday evening in the auditorium of the charter school on Market Street. The school’s Hispanic American Cultural Night featured members of the Youngstown State University dance team performing the tango and members of the local Hispanic community playing traditional musical scores.
The “fiesta” was followed by a traditional Latin-flavored feast.
“This month is national Hispanic Cultural Month, and so were celebrating,” said Principal Barbara Murphy. “Our students have been immersed in hearing about different countries throughout the Hispanic world.”
About 5 percent of the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade charter school’s student body has Hispanic heritage, Murphy said.
Kayla Morales, a pupil who’s parents come from Puerto Rican backgrounds, said she never before formally studied her family’s cultural heritage. It was exciting to be able to contribute to the lessons, she said.
“My friends tell me, ‘What’s this and what’s that,’ and I tell them,” she said.
The 14-year-old performed a vocal solo from a Spanish songwriter in the celebration. Performing always makes her nervous beforehand, Kayla said, but proud afterward.
“There’s a sense of pride in the Hispanic students here,” said school board member Ruth Rojas. “Today we’ll have several different representatives of the community represent their talents.”
Music teacher Jackie Evans said the Spanish-inspired curriculum was popular among all her students.
“We’ve been doing some Puerto Ricans songs,” she said. “One of them is a ‘Rueda,’ which is a circle game that kids play in Puerto Rico, and the kids loved that.”
But the subject matter was especially significant for her Mexican-American and Puerto Rican-American youngsters, she said.
“The kids who have Hispanic background, you see their eyes light up whenever you start to speak [Spanish],” she said.
Students will complete their lessons in Hispanic heritage today, Murphy said. The Spanish-theme lessons will continue next year during October.
“I think that our staff and students will miss the morning announcements,” Murphy said. “We’ve been playing merengue and salsa music.”