“I came to this country when I was 13,” said Natalie Rios. Born in England, she emigrated to Wetumpka, Alabama, in the early '80s. Rios laughed as she recalled, “it was a real culture shock. They didn’t know what had hit them and I didn’t know what had hit me, either. But it was through music that we reached understanding. I saw that music can break down barriers and it put me on the path to becoming a music educator.”
Rios is the music teacher at Trinity Catholic School and, based on her personal experience, she understands the importance of inclusion, diversity and representation.
She infuses those ideals through every aspect of her music curriculum and has created a Hispanic heritage unit for her kindergarten – eighth graders. “We have a pretty hefty representation of Hispanic students. Music is universal and it’s a phenomenal vehicle for the students to feel very proud of their heritage. It also opens the opportunity for other students to learn about those cultures.”
With the help of some Trinity parents, Rios has been able to teach traditional music and dance from all over South and Central America from salsa and merengue to Joropo and El Sebucán. As a culmination of the unit, fifth graders learned about the dance known as La Raspa and mariachi music.
Using the Quaver music curriculum, Rios can enhance and expand on her classroom instruction. Students get to see interviews with mariachi musicians, compare and contrast the instruments used, and learn some Spanish and geography at the same time. One of the instruments the students didn’t see in the mariachi band – maracas. “They are not part of mariachi even though everyone thinks they are,” said Rios.
Though Carmelo Perez was born in the United States his parents are both from Mexico. The fifth grader is bi-lingual, speaking English at school and Spanish at home. He says listening to the music of Mexico is “an enjoyment for me. It feels really good because I can relate to everything and I’m happy because other people are understanding my culture.”
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