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What Hispanic Heritage Month Means for Latino Students

Can celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month lead to decreased underage drinking, substance use, and high school dropout rates among Latino youth?

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Can celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month lead to decreased underage drinking, substance use and high school dropout rates among Latino youth?

It might be a start.

study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reveals Latino adolescents who actively embrace their family’s native culture stand a greater chance of avoiding these risk behaviors.

“We found teens who maintain strong ties to their Latino cultures perform better academically and adjust more easily socially,” said Paul Smokowski, an associate professor at the UNC School of Social Work who directed the study. Researchers repeated the survey a year later and found for every 1-point increase of involvement in their Latino cultures, there was a 13 percent rise in self-esteem and a 12 to 13 percent decrease in hopelessness, social problems and aggressive behavior.

Results also suggest Latino youth can benefit from biculturalism: Parents who developed a strong bicultural perspective have teen children who face fewer social problems.

Hispanic culture frequently permeates family lifestyle, but historical knowledge of the role Latinos have played in history is important for kids to learn, too. Hispanic Heritage Month – celebrated for 30 days beginning Sept. 15 — is the perfect opportunity.

Young girls watch Hispanic Heritage Month activities take place in Macon, Ga. Saturday, Sept. 28. Source: Beau Cabell/The Telegraph

“In the same way that learning about George Washington, Betsy Ross, or any of our founding fathers (and mothers!) instills pride in American children, learning about the contributions of their ancestors actually increases our children’s patriotism by making them proud of the role their cultural heritage has played in the formation of our country,” writes Monica Olivera Hazelton, founder of and contributing blogger for the former NBC Latino site. “Latino children need to see their own faces reflected in the history of our country because it creates a connection between them and the past, and it motivates our kids to start thinking about how they can also contribute and make a difference themselves.”

Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated with community festivals, government gatherings, and educational activities across the country. Many schools celebrate by teaching about the contributions of Hispanic Americans both past and present.

Websites like Time for Kids and Scholastic offer interactive activities for young audiences, such as printable coloring sheets and computer games, as well as information about influential Hispanic Americans.

Many educational sites, such as Smithsonian Education, give recommendations for teachers to incorporate the celebration into learning and often offer ready-made lesson plans. Suggestions include replacing Arabic numerals with Aztec numbers in a math lesson, telling students to bring pictures and cultural items from their family’s country of origin and adopting an international sister city in a Latin American country.

Elementary students in Illinois participate in a Parade of Nations at their school in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. Source: Cook County School District