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NTMS Hispanic dancers recognized at BOE meeting
Hispanic Heritage Celebration Dancers
Hispanic Heritage Celebration Dancers Front row (l to r): NTMS Principal Donny Sikes, Isabella Torres, Oscar Franco, Emily Diaz, Diana Lara, America Trejo, Yasmine Varela, Jayla Delgado, and Dr. Claudia Martinez. Back row: Martin Alfaro, Nicholas Agustin, Georgina Rodriguez, Yaret Rodriguez, Briana Lara, and Cesar Trejo.

The North Tattnall Middle School (NTMS) students who danced at the First District Hispanic Heritage Celebration in September 2022 were honored at the October 24 Tattnall County Board of Education (BOE) meeting. 

Over 450 people attended the first district Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration event in Tattnall County on Saturday, September 17 at Tattnall County High School. Hispanic Heritage Month is held from September 15 to October 15 each year. 

Traditional folklore student performances started in the cafetorium at 10 a.m., led by Choreographers Lucy Lozano, Letty Ovalle, and Dora Contreras. Theresa Smith, a violin instructor, conducted a lovely performance as well. There were 45 participants, with students from every school in the Tattnall School System. Seven different folkloric dances were performed. 

Those students who danced were: Yasmine Varela, Jayla Delgado, Diana Lara, Isabella Torres, America Trejo, Cesar Trejo, Briana Lara, Emily Diaz, Oscar Franco, Gisselle Rodriguez, Martin Alfaro, Georgina Rodriguez, Yaret Rodriguez, Nicholas Agustin, Luis Dominguez, Cielo Martinez, Luna Martinez, Noe Lozano, Jesus Lozano, Yamil Banda, Aleah Castro, Wyatt Dykes, Cali Guther, Camden Guther, Christabelle Guther, Stephen Jordan, Luis Martinez, Alaina Moore, Jade Morales, Adelynn Rice, Kenadi Yancey, Zaria Yancey, Nayeli Baxcajay, Karen Contreras, Ricardo Claudio, Vanessa Banda, and Leo Castro.

Authentic Mexican meals were free to attendees; 450 plates of tamales, rice, and beans were given out, as well as 250 plates with hotdogs and chips. Street corn from Tacos La Chona, a salsa bar by East Georgia Health Care Clinic, Puerto Rican snow cones by the TCHS Spanish Club, Mexican candy by many of the booth representatives, and drinks were also free to the public. 

This event allowed those attending to experience Hispanic culture, art, music, and food. The event is hosted by the NTMS Multilingual Program/Progama Multilengue de NTMS. Claudia Martinez, Ed.D., of NTMS was the brains behind this event. NTMS Principal Donny Sikes lauded Martinez for bringing this event to life. 

“I cannot say anything good about this celebration without talking about Dr. Martinez. She solely put this event together, and she went out and raised the money… she found a way to get it down,” Principal Sikes. “I was personally exposed to some cultural things that I neglected in my 18 years of education, so I want to thank the people who opened up my eyes and hopefully the community’s eyes to the Hispanic culture.”

Martinez received $2,600 from the Georgia APEX Center and $2,000 from Canoochee EMC to aid in the funding of this event. Kristin Waters wrote the L4GA  grant for the district and purchased bilingual books for our celebration. She also was able to receive the Literacy for Learning, Living, and Leading Georgia (L4GA) Grant.

At NTMS, the celebration began that Thursday before the celebration. Principal Sikes read A Spanish phrase of the week during the morning announcements every day that week. A trivia contest was held to test the students’ knowledge of Hispanic heritage. A dress up day was help so students and staff could dress in traditional Hispanic clothing or Hispanic flag colors. An authentic food day was held for multilingual students and all staff, and several reading and writing activities were available throughout the month.

Martinez is a first-generation immigrant and college graduate. She grew up in a Tamaulipas, Mexico, which bordered Texas. At the age of four, she watched her parents walk away from her in the hope of immigrating to the United States.

“I was standing outside of my grandparents’ house, and I was watching my parents walk away. At that moment, I understood they were immigrating, but I did not understand why. My grandparents had to hold me down while I watched my parents walk away from me,” Martinez said. “It was one of the hardest moments of my life, but I did not let that stop me. Instead, I use that experience to improve my education and the educational experience of my students.”

The celebration led to the following results in the community:

•  Education on Hispanic culture, traditions, and contributions in the community

•  Unity, empathy, and respect in the community

•  The understanding that we are all different but have many similarities

•  Local business leaders, associations, and universities joined forces with Tattnall County Schools

•  Powerful message was sent to Hispanic students and parents that the community care, respect, and value their contributions

“As a product of public education, as well as the ESOL and Migrant education program in a rural district, my personal story is proof that when given the right conditions, students can accomplish anything,” Martinez said. “I know the English learners struggle first-hand, and I am here to facilitate and help improve the educational experiences of all students.”

The NTMS dancers who were recognized at the meeting gave cards, a small souvenir, and Mexican gum to the BOE members at the conclusion of Martinez’s presentation.