Vernon Township High School observed Hispanic Heritage Month in various ways, from reading poetry by Cuban, Puerto Rican and Dominican poets in English classes, to dancing Salsa in the Upper Library with the new principal.
In the past several years, the school population has gotten more diverse with a growing number of Hispanic students. Three faculty members were particularly proud to share their heritage, including new principal Mrs. Lindsay LeDuc Young, whose parents were born in Puerto Rico and whose first language was Spanish. Spanish teachers Emely Paulino and Gabriella Gonzalez, both born in the Dominican Republic, are eager as well to share the advantage, and beauty, of being part of a diverse community.
“The Hispanic population makes up a large percentage of the people currently living in the US,” said Mrs. Young. “Embracing our cultures and differences is an important part of helping the young Latino community feel a sense of belonging.” Embracing other cultures is key to alleviating prejudice and bigotry. Gabby Gonzalez came to the United States to complete her senior year of high school and attend college and just joined the VTHS faculty this year. She is an ardent advocate for understanding.
“Now that I live here and I am a language teacher, I can appreciate the beauty of languages and how they come accompanied by culture,” she said. “As for all of the cultural and racial conflicts in our society, I think that they would not be present if we understood other cultures. Culture comes with a language, so if we work toward having a multilingual society, then we might have fewer issues understanding each other.”
Mrs. Emely Paulino, who has taught Spanish at the high school for years, said that respect and education were the values her family passed down from generation to generation.
“Diversity provides us with the opportunity to learn to accept, respect and appreciate others regardless of their preferences, beliefs, ways of living, values, and cultural backgrounds. I believe that diversity can open our minds to the understanding of different perspectives and it promotes empathy, innovation and problem solving,” she said.
Mrs. Young is eagerly enthusiastic about her Puerto Rican heritage.
“The Puerto Rican culture is all about family and embracing our loved ones,” she explained. “We are very wholesome and welcoming. When we say ‘mi casa es tu casa,’ we truly mean it.”
Mrs. Young brings that same welcoming attitude to her position as the new high school principal, returning to a school community she was part of once as a math teacher.
“Students need to not only learn to accept differences, but they need to embrace them. The only way that this is going to happen is through experience,” she said. “Being able to connect and build relationships with people of diverse backgrounds gives students the opportunity to see what exists beyond the media. These relationships make for more well-rounded individuals.
All three ascribe to and live the Golden Rule.
“There is not just one answer to solving racial and cultural conflicts,” reflected Mrs. Young, “but to treat others as you want to be treated is a good place to start.”