Dozens of our high school students participated in the 2023 Hispanic & Latinx Belongingness Forum, which was designed to encourage and empower them throughout Fayette County Public Schools (FCPS). “Your voice matters. Your culture matters, Your heritage matters. You matter,” said Murray Garvin of the district’s Office of Unity, Belonging, & Student Efficacy.
The half-day event welcomed teens from our six high schools, plus Carter G. Woodson Academy, the STEAM Academy, and The Learning Center. Similar forums for LGBTQ, Black, and multilingual students will follow throughout the year.
At the Sept. 18 gathering, students heard from an inspiring in-house role model: Rose Santiago, director of Multilingual Services and Gifted & Talented Services in FCPS. She opened by inviting other diverse staff in the room to introduce themselves. “We know your struggle,” she told the teens, “And we don’t give up.” Santiago then shared a little of her own journey, describing efforts to move beyond her family’s hardships and pursue a better life. Born in the Bronx, she grew up in Puerto Rico and came back as a high school junior – an ESL student with few supports in the 1980s. “I had high expectations and drive to get out of that situation,” Santiago told the teens. “If I made it, you can make it, too.”
Santiago noted that the Latino population is the fastest-growing group in the United States, and while our Hispanic and Latinx students hail from all over the world, they are united by language and culture. She urged students to embrace resilience and act boldly – using their voices for advocacy so others don’t overlook them as invisible at school. “Each of you has a story and that’s why you’re here,” Santiago said. “You’re the author of your destiny.”
Later, in an interactive morning session, the students rotated among 11 stations in a gallery walk featuring evocative quotes, images, and statements. They discussed their impressions and left sticky notes to share their thoughts. In addition, they met in small groups to review a survey about race. The questions included:
- Do you consider your racial or ethnic group an important part of your identity?
- How often is your racial or ethnic group represented in textbooks, posters, or in other materials in your classrooms?
- How many friends do you have from a different racial or ethnic background other than your own?
Garvin, who had welcomed the various groups to the John D. Price Administration Building, reminded the students that they are all part of FCPS no matter where they live or which school they attend. “We are one community, and we’re here to nurture that bridge-building,” he said.