On the evening of Tuesday, November 19 in Holyoke, MA, members of the Dean Technical High School community gathered to celebrate the many ways Puerto Rican culture contributes to, strengthens, and brightens the school. The school, which has been a GRAD Academy since August of this year, has a student body that is 90% Latino, the great majority of Puerto Rican descent. The celebration was a huge success. More than 250 people came out to celebrate one of the community’s most significant ethnic cultures, honor some of the most prominent Puerto Rican elders in the community, and enjoy tastes of the music, food, and dance from Puerto Rico.
The event began at 5:00 pm, when all attendees saluted both the American and the Puerto Rican flags. Three members of the Dean Tech staff sang “La Boriquena,” the Puerto Rican National Anthem. The theme of this particular Puerto Rican Heritage celebration was “Honoring Our Elders,” and the member of the Dean Tech community selected to be honored was Mr. Pedro Rivera. Mr. Rivera is a dedicated member of the Dean Tech community and an active member of the Holyoke community, serving a multitude of roles including coordinator of Career Technical Education placement, testing, and SkillsUSA. More importantly, perhaps, he has been essential in helping to create the welcoming, trusting, and demanding culture that Dean Tech has been working towards all year. His rapport with both students and parents is obvious, and all attendees were thrilled with the opportunity to honor his valued contributions to the community.
A series of dance numbers followed Mr. Rivera’s tribute. A folkloric group, El Coquí, commenced the dance selections. El Coquí, which is a small frog native to Puerto Rico, is the name of a children’s folkloric dance program designed to teach Holyoke youth about native Puerto Rican dances while also engaging them in a positive after-school activity. These young dancers opened for a group of Dean Tech students who performed a series of dances: a salsa (a traditionally Cuban dance), a negroide (an African-influenced dance), and a plena (a Puerto Rican folkloric dance). Finally, a Dean Tech staff member and local artisan displayed his art and spoke about the ways in which Puerto Rican culture influences and inspires his work. During the entire showcase, audience members enjoyed an authentic Puerto Rican meal, prepared by Dean Tech’s culinary students. Between each new presentation, the student emcees would provide bits of Puerto Rican history to the audience, making the entire night both entertaining and educational.
Assistant Principal Gladys Franco – who headed the planning committee made up of teachers, parents, and students – was pleased with the event’s turnout. “We felt that it was important to celebrate Puerto Rican heritage because of our student body. So many of our students share this important culture and history; it’s part of their identity.” Engaging the students, she shared, was not the only goal: “We also know it’s important to engage the community in our celebration. It really takes a village, and it’s important that we all work – and celebrate – together.”
In true GRAD fashion, Dean Tech continues to host creative and important events that boast record attendance numbers and allow students to share their work and talent with their community. And people are noticing: this event was featured on local news network ABC40. We look forward to what’s next in line from Dean Tech. Until then, check out this video archive of Dean Tech events compiled by a Dean Tech parent!