At most schools, fifth-grade students can be found goofing around on the playground outside of the classroom and practicing STEM initiatives inside the classroom. 

But in Brookfield, a group of 10- and 11-year-olds are breaking out in song and donning historical costumes to get in tune with their heritage.

On May 17, more than 200 family members for dozens of District 102 students from Congress Park and Forest Road schools gathered in the auditorium at Park Junior High School for the Expo de Arte Fina program, featuring performances of Mexican bailes traditionales, or folkloric dances, from regions across Mexico. 

The program was the second time the district has engaged students from Spanish-speaking families — mostly of Mexican descent — in a program connected with their heritage. 

District-wide, a transitional bilingual education program has been set up to comply with federal guidelines requiring bilingual teaching services to be offered at schools where more than 20 students are speakers of the same non-English language. In this year’s program, both English-learning students as well as other students joined in on the dancing.

“We really want students to connect with their culture and with their home language,” said Rachel Owens, ELL coordinator for the district. 

Last spring, District 102 held a bilingual visual arts show at Congress Park. This year, teacher Sandra Valdez from Flor de Corazon dance studio in Cicero came to Forest Road and Congress Park twice a week for a 10-week period, teaching students traditional Mexican dances from the regions of Nuevo Leon, Colima, Veracruz and Jalisco. 

“Music and art really help students connect with the culture of their parents and grandparents, and because a lot of students who are Mexican are growing up here, they may not have that obvious connection,” Owens said. “This really gives students a chance to have some of those cultural experiences that they may have had if they were growing up in Mexico.”

In conjunction with the dancing, Owens said a committee of bilingual parents was also beneficial in helping with the program’s success.  

“We’ve had parents come to practices, parents who come and bring snacks for the whole group; a great turnout at both Congress Park and Forest Road Schools. It’s just been phenomenal.”

Brookfield resident and Congress Park fifth-grader, Arleth Antunez, said she enjoyed the program and its lessons. 

“This is important because it’s cultural and you get to learn about all different cultures and how Mexicans do their dances,” she said. 

Nathan Anderson, a fellow fifth-grade student at Congress Park, agreed with Antunez that programs such as this one are vital to understanding the backgrounds of classmates.

“I loved it,” Anderson said. “My favorite part was doing dancing the whole time. I think it’s important to learn culture.”

Raul Govea, also in fifth grade at Congress Park, said he liked that he was able to do the educational activity with his peers. 

“This is part of our culture and I need to embrace it,” he said. “[I liked] working with all of my friends. It was a great time.”