CALCIUM, N.Y. (WWTI) — For active duty soldiers, celebrating culture in new places is a familiar concept.
But in the surrounding areas of Fort Drum, in Jefferson County, 87% of residents are white, resulting in few cultural resources for newly arriving individuals and their families of Hispanic culture.
This is an obstacle understood at Indian River Central School District, which supports the highest percentage of military families in the region. Indian River has many resources available to its students and families who arrive from different states or countries.
“With Fort Drum being here, it connects people from all over the world to our school district,” Kevin Kelly said, who directs the district’s English as a New Language program.
According to Calcium Primary School’s ENL Teachers Laurie Gardner and Jamie Montressor, the program helps bridge language gaps, as well as celebrate culture in and out of the classroom.
“We provide English instruction beyond what the classroom teacher is giving them,” Gardner explained.
“We try to encourage them to keep their first language, or their home language,” Montressor added. “So we’ll encourage the families to keep speaking their native language at home even while the children are learning English.”
In total, 63% of Indian River’s ENL students speak Spanish, spanning many cultures to be celebrated.
The program also uses school translators who have a deeper understanding of various cultures around the world, including Calcium Primary’s Spanish Translator Maria Margarita Pedrosa-Parker.
“I like to celebrate their language skills,” Pedrosa-Parker shared. “It might not make sense to a lot of folks, but it does to that child. I want that child to have the ability to stand up and maybe say three words in English, but celebrate those three words.”
But the work doesn’t stop with the students. Kelly said the program values connections with parents to prioritize the importance of an inclusive school community.
“In most communities, the school is the heart of the community,” Kelly expressed. “And what I want to make sure, and our staff wants to make sure, is that parents have that connection.”
When it comes to honoring Hispanic culture, Pedrosa-Parker is able to bond with military families of these cultures in a unique way, as she came to the United States alone from Cuba when she was five years old.
She said this usually starts over a phone call with parents, being there for them, empowering them and letting them know what’s available in school for them.
To further create a sense of community, the ENL program hosts an annual multicultural fair and events throughout the school year.
The teachers agreed that it has been nothing but rewarding as they celebrate the many cultures in their classrooms.
“We teach them that it’s special,” Montressor shared.
Pedrosa-Parker said she couldn’t be more proud of her students.
“Those children, they are doing so well and it brings me so much happiness to see such success in school with these families. I would have done anything as a child, I would have been so grateful if I had just a little bit of what the ENL teachers here do.”