“It’s Hispanic Heritage Month, but we celebrate our babies all year long, every day of the week. They should see themselves wherever they go,” says Tanya Poteat, executive director for Montclair Child Development Center (MCDC).

The majority of MCDC’s families identify as Hispanic, and nearly half speak Spanish at home. The growing Hispanic service population informs MCDC’s commitment to cultural competency.

“We have many Hispanic and Latino cultures represented among our families, so it is important that we be really intentional about educating ourselves and celebrating in a way that is meaningful for our children and families,” says Katherine Echavez, health and nutrition manager. “It works out well that Hispanic Heritage Month falls so close to the beginning of the school year as the children are getting acclimated to their classrooms. There are so many opportunities to share about their cultures, their families, and build that sense of belonging.”

Katherine uses the daily menu as an opportunity to highlight different Latin cultures.

“We’ve done a Cuban black bean soup and a Costa Rican soup. Next week the kids are making guacamole. With our COVID policies, things look a little different, but it’s important to get the children involved. Everyone will get their own avocado, their own little cups of ingredients, and they’ll get to prepare their own.”

Family engagement also looks different during the pandemic. From asking about families’ primary language during enrollment, to ensuring dual language learners have a Spanish-speaking teacher in their classroom, it is still a top priority. Derek Nelson, site supervisor at MCDC’s Fulton Street center, is embracing every opportunity to create meaningful connections through culture and language.

“We are involving families in everything we do. Children are bringing in cultural clothing and flags. Tonight is back to school night, and teachers will Zoom with families from the classrooms so they can see their children’s projects on display.”

Some of those projects include paper sombreros, home-made maracas, and collaged flags from different countries.

“We’re thinking beyond just the crafts,” says Derek. “With our Early Head Start classes, we get creative about making these developmentally appropriate activities, but they’re of course participating, too.”

The children’s projects are displayed in the classrooms and hallways along with a QR code that can be scanned to learn more about Hispanic Heritage Month.

Celebrating children and families’ unique cultures as embracing diversity as a strength is core to Head Start’s model of support for the whole child and the whole family. MCDC’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations are an excellent example, and only a small piece of this work that goes on all year long.

How are you celebrating Hispanic Heritage? Share your story with NHSA.

Lucy Truschel

Lucy Truschel is manager of Communications at NHSA. Prior to joining the Head Start community, she was an Assistant Director for Frost Valley YMCA and an Early Childhood Policy Intern for the Center for American Progress.

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