This month, we are celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month and all of the Hispanic individuals who are a part of the charter school community. As a part of this series, we are talking to Hispanic school leaders about what this month means to them.
Daniella Morello is the chief external affairs officer at STRIVE Prep, a charter school network of 10 schools in Denver. Here’s what Hispanic Heritage Month means to her.
How does your Hispanic heritage impact your work?
I am a proud Latina, first-generation American. My parents understood that a high-quality education was the one thing that could help my sisters and I have a better life, free of some of the struggles they faced. My dad always said, “education is the best gift I can give you.”
I do not take it lightly that I am the sole Latina on a leadership team that serves a primarily Latine population of students and families, many of which are also immigrants. In some ways I can understand some of the cultural norms at play, the challenges our families may face, and the beautiful strengths and assets they bring. We as Latinos are not a monolith, so I take the time to speak to and learn from our families and wider community so that, when we make decisions, their voices and opinions can be elevated to that space that I have the privilege of sitting in. Our families are leaders and change makers and we have much to continue to learn from them!
How does your school support Hispanic students?
In addition to the social emotional and academic supports that we provide all of our students, there are a number of ways in which we go above and beyond to support our Latine students. Of course, we can always be doing more and continue to learn more about ways to support our Latine students and families.
We have a teacher-funded Dare to Dream Scholarship that provides two graduating undocumented seniors a $6,000 scholarship for college as well as targeted mentorship. This was started by our teachers who know that our undocumented students are not eligible for federal funding, which can make accessing college more difficult. Our Undocumented Student Task Force, made up of staff from across our network, reviews those scholarship applications and provides trainings for staff on how to best support our undocumented community.
During the pandemic which our majority Latine community was deeply affected by, we developed a Crisis Relief Fund. These were grants of up to $1,000 that supported our community during a time of a lot of uncertainty and loss. We also ensured each of our students had a laptop and internet to access remote learning and access to mental health services.
Why do you think Hispanic Heritage Month is important?
It’s important to not only tell one dominant story of America. There are so many ways in which the Latino culture has contributed to our history to the modern inventions we have today, and even the ways it permeates our culture now. We’re more than just mariachis, tacos, and salsa music. Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity for us as a society to tell and celebrate those stories and all of the beautiful and different aspects of our culture.
How is your school celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month?
We have 10 schools across the Denver area that serves over 3,400 students. Each of our schools celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in the way that is special for their specific community. Our STRIVE Prep – Ruby Hill elementary campus, for example, hosted their 5th annual Festival of the Americas, including dance performances from a local Folklorico group, classroom craft activities, and a community potluck and Mariachi party. STRIVE Prep – RISE High School, on the other hand, hosted a community meeting to honor and spread awareness of Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrate our diversity, and educate on the contributions of Hispanic Americans to the history, culture, and achievements in society.
As a network, we also recently hosted our latest virtual Ed Equity series event that I had the pleasure of moderating. It’s an opportunity to listen to our Latine colleagues share their experiences, perspectives, and hopes for the future of education.
Kayley Pham is the coordinator of social and digital media at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.