Hispanic Heritage Month
By Natalie Schaefer and Sarah Hurd
When I was a little girl, my grandmother made it her mission to find me any and every doll she could find who looked like me. She bought me every Barbie she could find with brown hair. I knew she was looking for dolls who had brown hair like me, but I did not come to realize that my brown hair and brown eyes signified anything more than the fact that everyone on my mom’s side of the family also had the same. My grandparents spoke both Spanish and English. Growing up, I knew they spoke Spanish because I knew when I could not understand what they were saying and typically, if they were speaking Spanish around me, it meant they had a secret -- a birthday present or information only the adults could know. In my family, Spanish names for certain things replaced their English words in such a way that I literally had no idea that there were different words for those things. As an adult, I was eating a salad with pine nuts on it and commented to my grandmother just how much like piñones these curious nuts tasted. My grandmother actually laughed at me when she had to explain that piñon is just the Spanish name for the same nut. I didn’t know, as a kid, that my family was any different from any other family in my neighborhood. I thought everyone’s grandfather carried a packet of chili pequin in their pocket and that mi hita was his nickname only for me. I didn’t identify myself as Hispanic until I had to fill out my first formal documents as a young adult -- you know the ones where they ask you to choose, “White - not Hispanic, or Hispanic” and at that moment I realized the complexity of the ideas we have come to know as identity especially when identity meets other terms like government, hierarchy, and discrimination.
This month, we honor Hispanic Heritage Month. The month actually lasts from September 15th to October 15th. The national holiday started as a week-long celebration in 1968 and was extended to the full month 20 years later, under the Reagan administration. The month begins on the 15th of September in recognition of the date of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Additionally, it aligns with Mexican Independence Day on September 16th and Chile’s Independence Day which takes place on September 18th. The month is meant to recognize the contributions and influence of Hispanic Americans and their role in the history, culture, and achievements of the United States. While the holiday is marked as Hispanic heritage, it is important to remember that the term Hispanic itself is complex and may not fully represent the spectrum of individuals and their personal identities and experiences. There is not, as Stef Bernal-Martinez explains, a single Hispanic identity.
According to the 2020 Census, the Hispanic population (including those who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico, Central America, and the Spanish speaking nations of the Caribbean) is one of the largest growing portions of the American population today. There are currently approximately 62.1 million people in the United States who fit that category. Colorado is one of 12 states in the country where Hispanic residents number over 1 million. The number is actually 1.25 million, and of that 1.25 million, 26,000 residents are under the age of 18 in Jefferson County.
This month, we take the time to honor Hispanic Heritage Month not only because it is deemed a national holiday, but also because we want all students in Jefferson County Public Schools to feel supported and seen in our schools. In partnership with our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion team, our curriculum team works to provide resources that highlight stories of people from a variety of backgrounds. We want students to feel represented in our curriculum and provide opportunities for students to learn about people of identities that do not reflect their own. We also strive to ensure that students do not only hear stories of people like them in hardship, but also in triumph.
Andone, Dakin. “Why Hispanic Heritage Month Starts in the Middle of September.” CNN, Cable News Network, 15 Sept. 2021, www.cnn.com/2021/09/15/us/hispanic-heritage-month-why-celebrate-2021/index.html.
Bernal-Martinez, Stef. “Unmaking ‘Hispanic’: Teaching the Creation of Hispanic Identity.” Learning for Justice, 1 Oct. 2018, www.learningforjustice.org/magazine/unmaking-hispanic-teaching-the-creation-of-hispanic-identity.
Colorado State Demography Office. “Race and Hispanic Origin.” Colorado Demography, 2021, demography.dola.colorado.gov/population/race-hispanic-origin/#race-and-hispanic-origin.
U.S. Census Bureau. “Hispanic Heritage Month 2020.” The United States Census Bureau, 22 Sept. 2020, www.census.gov/newsroom/facts-for-features/2020/hispanic-heritage-month.html.
U.S. Census Bureau. “Improved Race and Ethnicity Measures Reveal U.s. Population Is Much More Multiracial.” The United States Census Bureau, 8 Sept. 2021, www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/08/improved-race-ethnicity-measures-reveal-united-states-population-much-more-multiracial.html.
Resources for teachers:
By Sarah Hurd & Natalie Schaefer
In 2004, Congress passed a law designating September 17th as Constitution Day. According to the statute, the purpose of the day is to help our students gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the United States Constitution. Schools may choose from a variety of options for meeting the requirements of the statute. Programs may range from school-wide observances such as assemblies, announcements, bulletin boards or other visuals to support direct instruction, and/or interdisciplinary projects to a classroom-based study related to the Constitution. The Constitution Day program is meant as a one-day special focus on the Constitution and not as a unit of study.
The Senate Historical Office says it well, “More than two centuries after its ratification, the United States Constitution remains a fundamental document. Strengthened by amendments, it continues to guide our public officials and the people they serve. It has endured through civil war, economic depressions, assassinations, and even terrorist attacks, and remains a source of wisdom and inspiration. To encourage Americans to learn more about the Constitution, Congress established Constitution Week in 1956, to begin each year on September 17—the date in 1787 when delegates to the federal convention signed the Constitution. In 2004 Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia took it a step further, sponsoring legislation designating September 17 of each year as Constitution Day and requiring public schools and government offices to provide educational programs to promote a better understanding of the Constitution. The Constitution of 1787 established the framework for the United States government, but it has fallen to succeeding generations to interpret and implement its principles. Every year, Constitution Day provides the opportunity for citizens to revisit the nation’s founding document and examine how it shapes this nation more than two centuries after its ratification”.
We are committed to the idea that activities developed to meet this law should not be something added to a social studies curriculum that is already replete with content and skills. Many of the suggestions for this one-day observance can be used as a springboard for continued study of (and connections to) the U.S. Constitution. Civics is embedded in Jeffco’s K-8 curriculum and has a stand-alone course in high school. There are also companion opportunities in our Modern US History, World History, and Economics courses for teachers to include civic related content.
By Sarah Hurd & Natalie Schaefer
“On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001 the al-Qaeda terrorist network successfully executed attacks against the United States using four commercial airplanes. The airplanes were used as missiles to commit suicide bombings on several key buildings in the US. The attacks killed 2,996 people, injured over 6,000 others, and caused at least $10 billion in infrastructure and property damage. The death toll increased even after the initial attacks, as additional people died of cancer and respiratory diseases related to the debris from the destroyed buildings in the months and years following the attacks” (Childs). People around the world were glued to news outlets and watched tragedy unfold as they followed the paths of Flight 93, Flight 77 and the two airliners that flew into the Twin Towers in New York City.
Twenty years have passed since the attacks on September 11, 2001, an event that would devastate a nation and change the course of history forever. “...it’s not a current, contemporary issue as much for students in the classroom as much as it’s a history lesson,” said Barbara McCormack, vice president of education at the Newseum. “It’s going from the front pages of the newspaper to the history books” (Martines). Even amidst unparalleled destruction and violence, the days after 9/11 showed the incredible strength, resilience, and courage of the American people. It is this spirit of strength that we continue to honor in the lives that were lost and those who are affected; and we celebrate the resilience of our nation over the last twenty years.
It’s not surprising that teaching 9/11 as history is a delicate task. These events are, for some people, a lived experience in recent history and for others a historical event that they read about in history textbooks or learn of the events on an online resource. For the teachers that remember that day, it can be an emotional and heavy day to be in the classroom. It can be hard to approach the subject matter as it is sensitive and the images and documents that might be used as primary sources are disturbing. The story is also very much still being written, as the effects of 9/11 on American society continue to evolve. There is no national guideline in terms of teaching the topic. Schools and teachers are able to determine what is a best fit for their students and staff. Teachers say many students have similar relationships with 9/11 as adults do with events like the bombing of Pearl Harbor or even the Challenger explosion: they know the facts but may not have the personal connection that comes with witnessing a tragedy and its aftermath.
There are several options that teachers can explore as they consider teaching about the events before, during and after September 11, 2001. Exploring the national memorials (Flight 93 National Memorial, 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, and the World Trade Center Memorial) might be a way to engage students in learning about the victims, heroes, and timeline of the events of the day. Teachers may explore the September 11 Initiative from StoryCorps and find a handful of stories to share with students. Listening to stories that commemorate the lives of those who were lost that day may help humanize the event for students and take it out of the realm of just dates and facts. A popular option for schools is to use the days around 9/11 as a way to focus on citizenship and those that serve. Schools may choose to host veterans, first responders, and other humanitarian groups to say thank you and to highlight the importance of these roles within American society.
As 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of these terrorist attacks on the United States there will be a flood of news stories, webinars, documentaries, and events. Each of these will offer their unique perspectives and observations. We encourage students, parents, and teachers to engage with what feels comfortable for them.
Childs, David. ““What Happened on September 11? I Honestly Don’t Know.”” Democracy & Me, 12 September 2019, https://www.democracyandme.org/what-happened-on-september-11-i-honestly-dont-know/. Accessed 7 September 2021.
Martines, Jamie. “'9/11 is now a history lesson for most students. It's hard to convey what happened without getting emotional.'” tes.com, The Hechinger Report, 12 September 2016, https://www.tes.com/news/911-now-history-lesson-most-students-its-hard-convey-what-happened-without-getting-emotional. Accessed 7 September 2021.
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