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Area students share Hispanic traditions

By Greg Gelpi

The phrase "Mi casa es su casa," took on a new meaning at the first La Fiesta Haynie as students came out swinging Friday.

Celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month, the Haynie Elementary family gathered to bust open pi?atas, share Hispanic delicacies and experience Hispanic culture.

"Our main emphasis in this is to let every student know they are special no matter where they come from," Principal Denise Thompson said. "We are the most diverse school in Clayton County."

For some it was a new experience, while for others it was a reminder of home. More than 21 percent of the students at Haynie are Hispanic. Parents of those students brought Hispanic dishes and artifacts to share with the students, all part of the hour-long fiesta.

Donning a sombrero, Ulysses Moctezuma, a native of Mexico, grinned ear to ear, saying that he enjoyed making the pi?atas.

"I had a friend who got used to English, and I got used to him," his friend Salesy Lee, a fifth grader who is originally from Mexico, said of his ability to adapt to an English-speaking environment.

Students from about 15 countries attend Haynie, including some as close as Mexico and as far away Pakistan and Cambodia, and more than 35 percent speak another language as their native language.

To break down the language and culture barriers, Clayton County supplies language liaisons who specialize in Spanish, Lao, Khmer and Vietnamese.

"We learned in my classes that from birth until about 6 or 7 there are these neurons that help them learn a second language," Emily Thompson, one of the school's English as a Second Language teachers. "Regardless (of where they are from), you have to start with the basics."

At Haynie, Juanita Garza, the school's bilingual parapro, serves as a translator and mediator between the school and Hispanic families. All correspondence is sent home to parents in both English and Spanish.

"I feel like in the Hispanic Community there kids are my kids," she said, explaining that when she moved from Mexico in 1969 schools didn't have ESOL programs.

In Henry County, the Hispanic population is smaller than that in Clayton, but it has grown since last school year.

Of the 29,594 students in Henry schools, 3.5 percent are Hispanic, up from 2.9 percent last year. Stockbridge Elementary has a 9-percent Hispanic student population.

National Hispanic Month runs from Sept. 15-Oct. 15. During the month-long celebration, students at Haynie studied about Hispanic culture and created Hispanic art projects, such as drawing the Mexican flag and making musical instruments out of paper.