Worldwide, 43% of the population is bilingual and 20% of Washington families speak a language other than English at home. At TOGETHER! they offer programs for Thurston County kids that welcome and embrace multilingual families. Their Club House Dual Language program and Día de Los Muertos cultural celebration celebrate the best of both worlds.

This year, in addition to field trips and homework help, TOGETHER! is also hosting a community-welcomed Día de Los Muertos celebration on Monday, November 1. Photo courtesy: TOGETHER!

Historically, Día de Los Muertos or the Day of the Dead, is a holiday “where families welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives for a brief reunion that includes food, drink and celebration. A blend of Mesoamerican ritual, European religion and Spanish culture, the holiday is celebrated each year from October 31 to November 2.”” Celebrated in contemporary Mexico and among those of Mexican heritage in the United States and around the world,” the tradition goes back “some 3,000 years, to rituals honoring the dead in Columbian Mesoamerica.”

TOGETHER! will offer this first annual Club House celebration event Monday, November 1, says Director of Club House and Dual Language, Kahlo Flores. There will be a student art showcase, activities for kids, snacks, live music and the chance to build ofrendas, or home altars honoring lost loved ones. The celebration will take place from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Equal Latin Restaurant in downtown Olympia.

The location was no accident. “The owner of Equal Latin, Isabel Guzman, has been supportive of our student’s educational growth and dual language program,” says Flores. “Club House is excited to display student art where they share stories in honor of loved ones who have passed, with a deep appreciation and understanding of the significance of El Día de Los Muertos. We look forward to seeing our Thurston community join us in celebration of our student’s dedication and celebration on the first of November.”

TOGETHER! offers dual language programming at each of their four before and after school care locations. Photo courtesy: TOGETHER!

Club House celebrates Día de Los Muertos each year with their students. But as with much of daily life in a pandemic, this year is unique. “We work on cultural awareness to ensure that youth learn about their heritage, art, culture and the many cultures that surround us here in Thurston County,” says Flores. “This year, to celebrate the strength and resilience that our Club House students demonstrated through the pandemic and to celebrate the lives of those that have passed on, we as a Club House program decided to extend our commemoration and make them public through a student art showcase.”

Club House is TOGETHER!’s before and after school program. More than just homework help—though that is on the agenda—it’s a way to provide enrichment, movement and a safe place to gather and make friends. Organizers also work with families to provide resources like school supplies, books and emergency assistance.

“Our TOGETHER! Club House is dedicated to bridging the educational equity gap,” Flores explains. “We take our students on field trips to national parks, partner with local organizations like Puget Sound Estuarium, where they educate our kids in marine biology and environmental awareness. We invite authors to do meet and greet with our students. At Club House, S.T.E.A.M educational lessons, social and emotional learning and cultural diversity and awareness are a prime focus. We invite interns and volunteers from local colleges and universities. We partner with colleges like St. Martin’s University, The Evergreen State College and South Puget Sound Community College to connect higher ed students to our purpose, mission and vision.”

There are Club House sites at Lydia Hawk and Pleasant Glade elementary and Chinook and Nisqually middle schools. Dual language programming will be offered at all four sites, though “Lydia Hawk has predominantly taken off as our pilot program site,” says Flores. “Our other three sites will be initiating their dual language curriculum in February 2022.”

Come celebrate with the TOGETHER! staff, students and families at Equal Latin in downtown Olympia. There will be an art show, crafts, snacks and live music. Photo courtesy: TOGETHER!

The TOGETHER! team is excited for these new offerings. “Bilingual and Dual Language programs promote bilingualism and biliteracy, grade-level academic achievement and cross-cultural competence in all students,” says Flores. “Students maintain their native language while adding another language, and they develop pride in their own culture while developing an understanding of others. Bilingual education develops important cognitive skills such as problem-solving, logic, critical thinking and creativity because it exercises your brain and forces you to think about how you can express and effectively convey your thoughts with the vocabulary you possess in each language.”

By offering dual languages at each of the four sites, every Club House student can experience all it has to offer. “Our hope is to incorporate bilingual education at all four sites and bridge language barriers still happening,” says Flores. “Our dual language curriculum will teach cultural awareness, hands-on activities, music and arts. Our students will be learning musical instruments and traditional folkloric dancing, as well as culinary skills, and how to read, write and speak in both English and Spanish.”

Follow TOGETHER! through their website or Facebook for upcoming events, activities and family resources galore. To sign your kids up for Club House, fill out the application online or reach out to site coordinators with questions.

After a busy Sunday night trick-or-treating with the family, treat yourself to an amazing evening TOGETHER! on Monday. “We hope to see our community join us and continue to follow the events happening at TOGETHER!,” says Flores. “We are here to serve our communities and see them bloom. We believe in this next generation and the good that will come with their knowledge and awareness. We look forward to seeing everyone on November the first at Equal Latin Restaurant and Bar!”


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