Published: May 10, 2019 By

Hundreds of Denver Public School (DPS) students will visit CU Boulder on May 15 for an annual competitive event designed to showcase their creative talents and to encourage them to pursue higher education after they graduate from high school.

CU’s flagship campus will welcome students from 11 DPS schools who will compete in academic and artistic categories such as poetry, art, speech, creative writing, cultural dancing and culinary dishes during the annual Spanish Heritage Language and Culture Day.

Students donning traditional Spanish dress, sit in auditorium

Students at Spanish Heritage Language and Culture Day 2018

The event is one of several precollegiate activities the university has developed in collaboration with area school districts to encourage students to set their sights on education beyond high school, said David Aragon, assistant vice chancellor for student success in the CU Boulder Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement (ODECE).

Aragon said the event represents an important collaboration between university departments, the BUENO Center’s Literacy Squared program and DPS educators who support culturally and linguistically diverse students through the English Language Acquisition and Seal of Biliteracy programs.

Kathy Escamilla, a professor and director in the School of Education’s BUENO Center for Multicultural Education, is credited with initiating CU Boulder’s partnership with DPS.

Diana Noonan, world languages coordinator for DPS, said nearly 200 languages are spoken by students in the district, and “for students participating in Spanish Heritage Day, doing so at the University of Colorado Boulder boosts their confidence to attain full biliteracy in reading, writing and speaking in English and Spanish while also instilling pride in their ethnic and cultural heritage.”

Like many of Colorado’s school districts, the diversity of the DPS student population has increased dramatically over the last decade and stands at more than 55 percent Latino. As such, access to postsecondary education and college readiness are top priorities, especially among students historically underrepresented in higher education, Aragon said.

Students who self-identify as Hispanic, Latina, Latino or Latinx comprise the fastest-growing segment of CU Boulder’s student population, which has increased 118 percent over the past decade.

“Spanish Heritage Day provides a unique way for CU Latina/o faculty, students, staff and alumni to address a need in DPS,” Aragon said. “We’re able to support the students’ learning as well as serve as role models and share our experiences, many of us, having been first-generation college students ourselves.”

Girls hold signs saying 'Speak,' an example of an 'Ethical Spectacle'

An example of an “Ethical Spectacle,” taken by Beth Osnes in New York City for the She’s the First Conference

This year’s competitions will include a display of handcrafted altars and piñatas in the UMC arcade and a final interactive, multimedia performance at Balch Fieldhouse called the “Ethical Spectacle” featuring moving murals, music, dance, and spoken word to inspire cultural pride, teamwork and academic dialogues.

Beth Osnes, an associate professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Theatre and Dance, will lead the Ethical Spectacle and said the performance will provide students with a framework to express and celebrate who they are as Latina/o students and show their school spirit.

Osnes and her colleague Marcos Steuernagel, an assistant professor, said the images created by the students will be assembled at the end of the performance to express “unidad” or cultural unity and community understanding.

Guest speakers will include Eric Dutilly, who graduated from CU Boulder recently with a doctorate in education research, and Marithza Flores, a sophomore who is studying biochemistry. Both are bilingual scholars who want to share their postsecondary stories with young people.

Participating DPS middle schools include Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy, Lake, Skinner and Bear Valley International; and participating DPS high schools include Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln, West, South, George Washington, John F. Kennedy and North.