Sharing culture through music
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
For years, Lora Gallegos-Haynes has reached outside the box to find creative ways to introduce the Spanish language to her students at Hays High School.
She came across a unique lesson several years ago while attending a conference of the Kansas World Language Association in 2002.
Justo Lamas, a singer/performer from Argentina, put on a concert for those attending that conference, and a light bulb went off in Haynes' head.
Why not bring something like this to students in Hays and the surrounding area, she thought.
"We don't have a lot of Hispanic culture in this part of the state," Gallegos-Haynes said. "I thought this would be a good way to hear something different."
Wednesday, students from 15 schools, some from as far as McPherson, were treated to an energy-packed Spanish concert by Ennio Emmanuel, a performer of Puerto Rican descent, at the 12th Street Auditorium in Hays.
It was the first time on stage in Hays for Emmanuel, in his first year of performing for United Cultures. Lamas had performed four times in Hays at Haynes' invitation since 2003.
This year, Lamas brought United Culture's newest voice with him.
Upon returning from that conference approximately 10 years ago, Gallegos-Haynes checked out Lamas' website and found he would visit schools. She emailed high school Spanish teachers across the state, asking if they would be interested in bringing their students to hear the concert.
Wednesday, there were students attending from McPherson, Ellsworth and Oakley.
The lower level of the auditorium, which seats 360, was so full approximately 30 students had to be moved to the balcony.
"I think this is really good for the students," said Bonnie Orozco, a teacher from Ellsworth who brought approximately 15 students.
Gallegos-Haynes said she was impressed from the time she first heard Lamas.
"He says a lot of good things in his songs, really encouraging and to have hope," she said. "These songs are not about hurting people or taking from somebody, not 'it's-all-about-me' like some of the songs kids listen to these days."
Hays High sophomore Ben Rajewski agreed.
"I thought it was neat that we got to learn some songs in Spanish," he said.
Each student pays a $15 fee for the concert, which went over well among the younger set with Emmanuel's constant movement on stage and down among the crowd, involving students in the concert and the loud -- very loud -- music.
"That was definitely more of a concert than I thought it would be; it was really fun," said Hays High sophomore Mariah Haley, a student in Gallegos-Haynes' level II Spanish program. "A lot of my friends really got into it, and I thought (Emmanuel) did a great job."
Haley was one of the dancers her teacher chose beforehand to perform on stage with Emmanuel. Teachers go online before the concert and practice the words and actions of the songs.
Emmanuel, in his mid-20s, said he enjoys the performances as much as the students and is glad to help students learn more about the Spanish culture.
"It's a good way to promote people to enjoy other languages, whether it be Spanish or whatever," Emmanuel said. "And it helps reinforce what Spanish teachers do in their classrooms."
HHS sophomore Alex Crowley also got the chance to sing on stage with Emmanuel.
"It was really cool," said Crowley, who added he has seen some Spanish concerts, "but never in school."
"Not like that," he said. "I'm glad (Gallegos-Haynes) does these kinds of things."
"She speaks Spanish a lot in class," Haley said of her teacher. "She does a lot of interactive and hands-on things with us. I think all that helps learn it better."