Old Saybrook Students Enjoy Latino Beat

By Melissa Pionzio on November 5, 2008, The Hartford Courant


See all those little arms in the air? In elementary school, little waving arms are a sure sign that students really, really, really want to get picked for something!

That was the scene in the Goodwin Elementary School auditorium in Old Saybrook today, every time members of Surcari, a Latin American entertainment troupe, asked for volunteers during their live musical journey through Latin American and Caribbean culture.

Eugenio Huanca, Lorena Garay and Tany Cruz, the talented members of Surcari, opened their show dressed in traditional Andean ponchos.

Each song that followed was from a different culture, and featured traditional instruments from various countries like Paraguay, Columbia, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico and many more. Lorena chatted with the kids in Spanish and English, and the school's principal Sheila Brown told me that the Kindergarteners and first graders probably understood many of the words, as they are studying Spanish in their classes.

Surcari, Lorena told me, is derived by combining the Spanish word for south and Cari, the first four letters of the word Caribbean. The members of SURCARI are originally from Chile, Ecuador, and Puerto Rico.

This show rocked, it really did. The music just never stopped and as I sat in the back of the room watching, I was impressed with how intent these kids were on the music and the performers - they clapped, moved around on their bottoms or rocked back and forth in place. Do you know how hard it is to engage a group of Kindergarteners and first graders in one big room for more than half an hour and then do it all over again for second and third graders?

During a short break between performances (the group gave two and I got to see both!) I asked Lorena just how she managed it.

"That same enthusiasm I feel about Latin American culture and folklore, I want to pass on to them, not to teach them, but to share," she said. "And also to have them be interactive, to be a part of it so they are a part of the whole celebration."

So thaaaat's the secret, give kids the chance to get right in there and participate in a program that is interesting, humorous, full of music, culture and history, and they won't be able to help themselves from enjoying it.

Principal Sheila said the program is just one of many ways her students experience the culture of different countries. The students at Goodwin also meet regularly with students from urban schools through Authors and Amigos, We Are the World and Circle of Friends initiatives, which are made possible through a grant from LEARN.