Basalt High School reinforces welcoming message for Spanish speakers after election | AspenTimes.com

Basalt High School reinforces welcoming message for Spanish speakers after election

Scott Condon | The Aspen Times

Teachers who work with Spanish-speaking students at Basalt High School started a tradition in 2012 aimed to bridge cultural divides and make newcomers feel welcome.

That tradition is needed more than ever this year after the election Tuesday of Donald Trump as president, they said Friday.

The teachers in the English language development team worked with the Thrift Shop of Aspen ladies four years ago to create a Thanksgiving dinner to introduce students who speak Spanish as their first language and their families to American culture.

"They didn't realize what cranberry sauce was or Thanksgiving," teacher Leticia Ingram said. "They just thought it was a day off of school."

The event has soared in popularity. Teachers and students go door to door to personally invite students and their families, many of them newcomers to the Roaring Fork Valley. Members of the Key Club and National Honors Society serve the food. Community members have embraced the event by offering labor, materials and services. Chef Vincent Russo of the Roaring Fork Club will return to head preparations of scores of turkeys, mounds of potatoes and gallons of gravy.

Attendance has doubled since it was started. There were 150 attendees in 2012. That soared to more than 300 last year.

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Tears, panic follow election

Ingram and fellow teachers Tim McNulty and Eric Vozick aren't focused on numbers heading into this year's event, which will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the high school. They are concerned about soothing the nerves of students rattled by the election of a candidate who claimed during the campaign that he would build a wall at the U.S. border with Mexico as well as deport illegal immigrants.

"We've had lots of tears this week and panic," Ingram said.

Vozick said students have been asking if Trump can and will do what he said he would.

Frida Santoya, a liaison between the school and parents who speak Spanish as their primary language, has been fielding a lot of questions from families unfamiliar with U.S. politics. Many of the families wonder if deportations will begin immediately.

McNulty said one of the projects the English language development classes recently undertook was having immigrants make presentations in English about their experiences coming to the U.S. Some of them fled for their lives from violence in their home countries. Others described harrowing experiences while crossing the border. Now, they face uncertainty.

"I just think it's a scary time," McNulty said.

Safe harbor

High School Principal Peter Mueller said the effects go well beyond the school.

"The election has certainly sent a big shockwave through our community," he said.

The school district is sending the message that the schools are a safe and welcoming place free of politics, Mueller said.

The student body grew from 400 last year to 450 this year. The number of students who spoke Spanish as their first language was 58 percent last year, so the reasons for concern about national policy are obvious.

"We've been talking to our students about not hiding and going into the shadows," Vozick said.

Santoya said the message is clear: "We support you and we're here."

The Thanksgiving feast at the school will reinforce that message. Ingram said it's proven in prior years to forge friendships among students and open doors to understanding. The newcomers will sense the welcoming nature of Basalt when they see so many people in the community involved in the event, the teachers said.

The event shows that Basalt welcomes a person regardless of where they came from, their skin color or their religion, she said.

Ingram said offers of help for the event are flowing in via email. She cited one that said, "At this time we feel it's even more important. How can we help?"

There's plenty to do from cooking, setting up, serving and cleaning up. Anyone who wants to help can contact Frida Santoya at the school at 970-384-5959.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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