Spanish Teacher’s Mexican Independence Day Fiesta Excites Students
National holidays are a great opportunity to spark student engagement through vibrant cultural celebrations that fuse learning and fun! Sandra Medellin, a Spanish Immersion teacher from Mexico, turned a regular school week last year into an unforgettable cross-cultural extravaganza at West Buncombe Elementary School in Asheville, North Carolina. Sandra's mission was to provide her kindergarten students with an authentic experience of Mexican Independence Day, immersing them in the rich culture, history, and traditions of her home country.
A common misconception inspired Sandra’s topic choice. The popularity of Cinco de Mayo parties in the USA leads many to incorrectly assume May 5 is Mexico’s Independence Day. Cinco de Mayo actually celebrates Mexican troops’ victory over invading French forces at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, 41 years after Mexico declared independence from Spain.
Sandra planned to take her kindergarteners on a riveting journey through her homeland for one week in September, culminating in a celebration on the actual date of Mexico’s Independence Day, Sept. 16.
Day 1: Journey to Mexico
On Monday, Sept. 12, Sandra began by introducing her students to her home country. Using a globe, she showed them the location of Mexico and her hometown, Puebla. Students contrasted this with North Carolina’s location, creating a sense of connection between their home state and their teacher’s homeland. With the help of a video, the class explored iconic landmarks, traditional dresses, and vibrant dances, setting the stage for an immersive cultural experience.
Day 2: Unveiling the Flag
The following day, Sandra unveiled the Mexican flag, diving into the symbolism behind its colors and the central emblem—an eagle devouring a snake. She explained the meaning behind each color, fostering an understanding and appreciation for the flag's significance. To engage her students further, she gave each child a paper Mexican flag to color at home and attach to a stick, allowing them to proudly display their creations.
Day 3: Discovering Heroes
On Wednesday, Sandra turned her attention to the historical significance of Mexican Independence Day. She made sure to simplify her explanations, making it easily comprehensible for her young learners. By introducing them to influential heroes such as Miguel Hidalgo, José María Morelos, and La Corregidora, Sandra helped her students grasp the courage and determination that shaped Mexico's fight for independence. Later, students watched an age-appropriate video about the event, then matched the heroes with their correct names to reinforce and check their understanding.
Day 4: Savoring Traditions
Thursday was dedicated to exploring Mexican cuisine. Sandra showcased mouthwatering photos of typical dishes associated with the celebration of Mexican Independence Day. This visual feast introduced the children to the diverse flavors of Mexico and demonstrated how food plays a significant role in cultural celebrations.
Day 5: Viva Mexico!
Finally, the momentous day arrived—Friday, Sept. 16—the actual Mexican Independence Day! Sandra reenacted the traditional "grito" (cry for independence) with her students, as they proudly waved their homemade flags and cheered "Viva Mexico!”
Sandra shared videos of the vibrant parade that takes place every Independence Day in Mexico. She also introduced the concept of a "kermesse," a traditional fair-like event, by showing videos and photos, further enriching her students' cultural awareness.
Sandra was thrilled to have the support of seven dedicated mothers who volunteered to help set up booths showcasing Mexican games and food. Each child received tickets to use at the booths, creating a truly immersive cultural experience. The sounds of Mexican music filled the air, encouraging some children to dance alongside Sandra.
“Everything was a success, and the kids said that it was the best party they have attended!” Sandra proclaimed.
Through Sandra’s carefully planned activities, she transported her kindergarteners to her homeland, allowing them to experience the joy, pride, and rich traditions of Mexican Independence Day. By involving parents in this vibrant cross-cultural event, Sandra went above and beyond to ensure this event left a lasting impression. Her remarkable success highlights the transformative power of immersive, hands-on learning experiences that shape young minds, celebrate diversity, and foster cultural understanding.