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Danbury High School throws first Hispanic Heritage Month celebration for growing Latino student population

Danbury High School photography club

Danbury High School’s student population is experiencing a significant increase in the number of Latino students and students who speak English as a second language. And as of this school year, they account for 30% of the student population.

Olga Cárcamo-Haney, a bilingual teacher at the school, wanted to organize a Hispanic Heritage Month celebration to help students in this growing population feel included at school and increase their engagement in school-wide activities.

Cárcamo-Haney said she noticed the increasing number of students from countries across Latin America.

She said it’s important for students to see their culture reflected at school and wanted to make sure Danbury High School is a safe, inclusive environment for all students.

When she began planning the event along with the student Latino Club and their Spanish National Honor Society, they were expecting at most,100 students to attend. Yet when word got around, about 250 students came out to show support.

Most of the students who attended the celebration, Cárcamo-Haney said, were her students who are learning English as a second language. She said many of these students don’t normally attend events like Prom or pep rallies because it’s not something they have back home. She said they’re afraid of not fitting in.

“Given that they spend most of their time in this building, there is a limited amount of opportunities for these students, I just wanted to have more events that they would be willing to go to,” Cárcamo-Haney said..

The celebration included food donated from local Latin restaurants and Danbury High School teachers. There was also a DJ, dance performances, representatives from the Dominican community center and Latinos for Educational Advocacy.

Cárcamo-Haney said her students had a great time, and keep asking what’s to come next year and if they’ll do it again.

“They were really happy to have such an event that celebrated them here at Danbury High School, as big as it was, just because we've never had anything like it,” she said.

Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the history and cultures of those in the U.S. who have ancestors that came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. It runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 because of the anniversary of several Latin American countries – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Chile.

In the U.S., the Hispanic and Latino population has reached over 62 million residents, according to the Pew Research Center. They are one of the fastest-growing groups in the U.S.

Connecticut’s Latino population is also very fast growing. Latinos currently make up 17% of the state’s total population, with the largest group being of Puerto Rican Heritage. This is due to the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria, which forced 13,000 Puerto Ricans to move to Connecticut.

“One of my goals is that if we have more events they’re comfortable attending like cultural events or those that mention diversity, it would hopefully create a trend where they will be more willing to go to other events,” Cárcamo-Haney said. “I want them to know that they are a part of this school.”

Lesley Cosme Torres is an Education Reporter at Connecticut Public. She reports on education inequities across the state and also focuses on Connecticut's Hispanic and Latino residents, with a particular focus on the Puerto Rican community. Her coverage spans from LGBTQ+ discrimination in K-12 schools, book ban attempts across CT, student mental health concerns, and more. She reports out of Fairfield county and Hartford.

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