Strength & Beauty in the Latinx Community

Strength & Beauty in the Latinx Community

Nuestra Herencia Hispana

Unidos Somos Mas: #LatinxHeritageMonth

KIPP SoCal Public Schools is proud to have celebrated National Latinx Heritage Month, from September 15 through October 15, to honor the rich histories, cultures, and the remarkable contributions Latinos have made in California and in the United States. 

With roots going back to 1968, this month coincides with the anniversary of independence of several Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and followed by Mexico, Chile, and Belize.

Noting the importance, we (virtually) sat down with Paola Kvammen, Teacher, and Yesenia Castro, School Leader at KIPP Raíces Academy, to spotlight how they celebrated Latinx history, culture, and achievements.

Taking pride in the beautiful traditions of her native land — Guadalajara, Ms. Kvammen recalls the source of her inspiration. During her childhood, she was a part of unforgettable school plays, altares (altars), delicious foods, mariachi concerts, games, and educational platicas (talks) on the meaning behind the colorful fiestas and lively carnavales that filled the air with confetti during this time.

“My goal has been to have families feel and know that we are proud of who we are. I feel lucky because I've really felt supported at KIPP Raíces,” says Ms. Kvammen in discussing Latinx history and bringing more heritage celebrations to the school community. With the initiatives from multiple team members, “we’ve been able to make our celebrations more robust,” comments Ms. Castro. 

And in efforts to broaden horizons and celebrate the Latinx culture in a virtual world, KIPP Raíces organized many educational activities and festivities, including:

  • Presentations that highlighted different Latinx voices (modeled from their Black History Month celebration)
  •  Students made their very own petroglyphs/rock artLessons on the contributions of indigenous people (i.e., Taíno petroglyphs)
  • Story time sharing the legacy of profound activists like Cesar Chavez and Sylvia Mendez
  • Virtually traveled the globe to the 21 Spanish-speaking countries 
  • Weekly school-wide fiestas virtuales with interactive activities (i.e. drawing calaveras)Calaveras

The KIPP Raíces community is connected — the first fiesta virtually drew in about 60 families. “We want to help amplify the voices of our parents,” notes Ms. Kvammen. “These are celebrations that we need to continue to have.”

As a Spanish teacher, Ms. Kvammen also stresses that it isn’t just about learning a list of 100 verbs, but rather diving deeper to learn and understand other heritages. “I believe that by celebrating different cultures, it is helping our students' sense of self,” affirms Ms. Castro. Learning from Latinx history can benefit all to better understand our neighbors and school communities that help make up the broader community.  

KIPP SoCal embraces the diversity that strengthens us and recognizes that Latinx excellence never stops. Having celebrated #LatinxHeritageMonth was “a vital opportunity to dispel ignorance, prejudice and fear through history, multidisciplinary lessons, and celebrations” states Ms. Kvammen. We have to see history as a tool for constructing a better present. Our Latinx community is powerful 365 days of the year. 

“There is so much strength and beauty in the Latinx community,” says Ms. Castro. Here are three amazing key facts about the nation’s Latinx population:

  • The U.S. Latinx population reached 60.6 million in 2019, up from 50.7 million in 2010.
    • Specifically, over 6 million out of the 60.6 million Latinx people reside in Los Angeles County and San Diego County.
  • The share of U.S. Latinos with college experience has increased — about 41% of U.S. Latinx adults ages 25 and older had at least some college experience in 2018, up from 36% in 2010.
  • A record 32 million Latinos are projected to be eligible to vote in this 2020 presidential election, up from 27.3 million in 2016.1
“Let’s leverage the strength that we have as people to support each other,” notes Ms. Castro. “I’m also thinking a lot about the Black Lives Matter movement and how the Latinx community can show support for our Black community.” Ms. Kvammen adds, “unidos somos mas.” When we come together and work together, there's nothing we can't achieve,” concludes Ms. Castro. “Rise up!”

1 J.M. Krogstad and L. Noe-Bustamante (September 10, 2020). Retrieved from

About Yesenia Castro and Paola Kvammen:

School Leader, Yesenia CastroYesenia Castro is the school leader of KIPP Raíces Academy in East Los Angeles. Yesenia joined the KIPP Raíces Academy team and family in July of 2009 as a first-grade founding teacher. During her time at Raíces, she has served her students and families as a first-grade teacher, Spanish teacher, dean, and assistant principal prior to stepping into the role of principal in 2016.Prior to joining KIPP Raíces Academy, Yesenia taught a first-grade bilingual classroom with Teach for America in the Bronx, NYC for two years. Yesenia received her B.A. in International Relations from Stanford University and her M.S. in Teaching from Pace University. As an administrator at KIPP Raíces Academy, Yesenia has worked alongside a talented team and family that has made Raíces one of the top-performing elementary schools in the state of California. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Stanford University and master’s in teaching from Pace University.


Teacher, Paola KvammenPaola Kvammen is the Spanish teacher at KIPP Raíces Academy. Sra. Kvammen was born and raised in Guadalajara, Mexico. She has spoken and studied Spanish ever since she can remember. She attended the Universidad de Guadalajara in Jalisco for her undergraduate degree in ESL. During her college years, she took classes covering subjects ranging from “Childhood Psychology” to “Teaching Spanish as a Second Language.” Even though she received her degree in ESL specifically targeted towards teaching kids, her time spent at the university taught her to be prepared for any teaching situation that might arise. 

Traveling is surely one of her favorite activities because she gets to meet and get to know new people. It is great to learn about new cultures and experience other ways of seeing the world. She enjoys volunteer work as a Spanish teacher and developing new programs for students. She also enjoys volunteering as a youth and recreational sports coach during the summers. It’s her second year at KIPP Raíces and she loves it!