San Marcos CISD launches ‘Culture Camp’ celebrating linguistic diversity and identity

Hays

SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — A two-day camp for San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District students is setting out to empower them to embrace their bilingual roots.

It’s an interactive program launched by the district this school year, strategically during Hispanic Heritage Month. The district said it wants to empower its secondary students to accept their diverse backgrounds, while also recognizing the power of education.

In the last 10 years, the number of people in Hays County who identify as Hispanic or Latino has grown from 35.3% to 38.5%. That’s closer to the 39.3% of Texans who identify as Hispanic or Latino.

Dr. Jose Luis Zelaya tries to inspire kids who are just like him.

“I consider myself a reflection of their potential,” Zelaya said. “So whenever I think of them, of their stories and experiences, they’re really not that far away from mine.”

Zelaya is a motivational speaker and an immigrant from Honduras who is getting personal with students at SMCISD’S Culture Camp. He asks them to share their stories and to be proud of where they came from.

“It was leaving all of my friends over there in Mexico,” ESL student Oscar Martinez said.

A two-day camp for San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District students is setting out to empower them to embrace their bilingual roots. (KXAN/Jala Washington)
A two-day camp for San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District students is setting out to empower them to embrace their bilingual roots. (KXAN/Jala Washington)

The camp is designed to give confidence to students by staying true to who they are.

“Knowing that diversity exists, and diversity is beautiful,” SMCISD Director of Bilingual and ESL Education Dr. Monica Valdez said. “And so, in the past where there was that stigma, we’re trying to rehabilitate the idea that language is less than, but that language is additive… They need to know they’re accepted, they need to know that they’re honored.”

There are about 1,000 ESL students in SMCISD, according to Valdez. She said many at Culture Camp on Tuesday immigrated to the U.S. within the past five years.

“I want to be a grown man with my college done,” Oscar said.

Zelaya said he hopes students truly recognize their diverse backgrounds can be an instrumental tool to their success.

“I want them to be able to reflect on the sacrifices of their community,” Zelaya said. “Whenever a student’s language, culture, identity is validated, that’s going to serve as a catalyst.”

Tuesday marked the first Culture Camp for the district, but Valdez said they’re hoping to make it an annual event with different speakers.

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