By Eboni Johnson
Over the last 10 years, the population of Hispanics has grown 52% and now makes up 9% of our small city. Hispanics make up 5.5% of South Carolinians. It is no question that Hispanic children’s well-being and status very well may affect Greenville’s, given that they are becoming such an integral part of our community. Systemic barriers are blocking many Hispanics’ path to success, which has often made their journey a difficult one. Therefore, an integrated, multicultural curriculum in all schools is step one to knocking these obstacles down.
For the 2018-19 school year, 15.7% of elementary students across Greenville County Schools were Hispanic. It is our duty as citizens and as a people who genuinely care to help all children succeed. In a 2011 study conducted by Teresa M. Huerta, Hispanic students identified an “effective teacher” as one who “advocated on their behalf” and “understood their home life experiences … as bilingual learners navigating two cultural communities.” This is why an integrated, multicultural curriculum, starting in early childhood, is just the solution that all children need.
Currently, in schools, the focus has been placed on helping Hispanic children learn and become proficient in English. While learning English is necessary, our culture is ingrained in who we are. Carlos Ovando and Mary Carol Combs, authors of the text “Bilingual and ESL Classrooms: Teaching in Multicultural Contexts,” state that “multicultural education … is defined as a comprehensive approach to schooling that can touch on virtually every aspect of the educational process.” The authors even found that ethnicity had an influence on cognitive style. By neglecting children’s cultures, we neglect to give students a full, well-rounded education.
Schools need to change the message they are sending Hispanic children. We need to celebrate languages other than English and all cultures on a daily basis. For example, it could be as simple as announcing a word of the week on the afternoon announcements at school, but it being a Spanish word instead. Actions like these would let them know that we do indeed care about their backgrounds. As Wofford College professor Laura Barbas-Rhoden simply put it, it is important to “tell them their culture matters.”
Given that Hispanic children’s path to success historically has been a rocky one, teachers have an important role in alleviating the potential difficulties. In a 2017 issue of “The American Educator,” Patricia Gándara says, “Teachers can nurture the assets that Hispanic students bring to school, such as their optimism and the persistence they have shown in difficult circumstances.”
Gándara also points out the importance of highlighting the value of a bilingual child’s skills. This reminds students that no matter their background or their cultural roots, they yield important contributions.
We, as citizens, all are responsible for creating equal opportunities for high-quality education for our future leaders. We can start by creating an educational atmosphere in which Hispanic children can comfortably and unapologetically be their true selves.
Eboni Johnson (’22) is a student at Furman University majoring in sociology and Spanish. She can be contacted at email@example.com.