Writing is relative
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 16, 2006

Zito students tap families, heritage in project

Betty Reid

Abigail Sandoval is eager to learn more about Latinos' contributions to America.

Sandoval's teacher and other educators at Joseph Zito Elementary in west Phoenix created different but relevant lessons for students like her to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, which coincides with independence celebrations in Mexico and other Latin American countries. Valleywide activities tied to the occasion started Friday and will end Oct. 15.

For Zito students, the task is to write about Latinos and how they shaped their communities. The monthlong research and writing project is aligned to the Arizona Instruments to Measure Standards. Sandoval, 10, chose to write about Gloria Estefan, a Latin pop star whose family escaped to the United States from Havana when Cuba's government was overthrown in 1959.

Until now, the fifth-grader has listened to Estefan songs like Reach or Conga. She will turn in her project to teacher Marilú Neave.

"I like the way Estefan sings in both Spanish and English," Sandoval said.
"I'm a fan, and I think I want to know more about her."

To get students interested in writing, Principal Gabriel Garcia asked his teachers to think a "little bit outside of regular writing lessons."

"So we asked them to write about their own families and how they celebrate their heritage," Garcia said. "You get a little more enthusiasm about learning if you ask them to write about what's real in their life."

Before Neave's class dives into researching and writing, she expects them to put together a "main idea map" that will force the students to understand why they are tackling the assignment. She helped them with a lesson about their own culture and tradition.

She asked her students to answer "What Heritage Means to Me," defining heritage as what is handed down from one generation to the next.

Gabriel Ruiz, 10, agreed to divide the answers into three categories:
traditions, skills/customs and ancestors.

Ruiz chose storytelling about his ancestors.

The child, who met his late great-grandmother at age 4, remembered a story she shared with him about her Hispanic heritage. It involved her journey into Mexico, where she found employment for a year.

Great-grandmother fired ceramic sculptures and painted them, said Ruiz, who will research the life of the late farmworker leader César Chávez. He will figure out why farmworkers respect him, the student said.

Sandoval, meanwhile, wrote seasonal rites under family traditions. She and her family travel to Los Mochis, Mexico, to visit her grandmother and celebrate the traditional December Posadas. They hold a large turkey dinner that features other Mexican foods.

Her favorite is a special chile sauce made by her aunts and a dessert called tres leches, or three milks. That taste can't be replicated in America, Sandoval said.

"That trip means a lot to me because I get to see my family in Mexico and I get to know them better every year," she said.

The student started reading about Estefan and found out that the entertainer, although she is American, says Cuba is never far from her heart.

"That's just like me and my family," Sandoval said. "We live here, work here and study here. A part of us is in Mexico."