A teacher at the Weber School has initiated a partnership with another Sandy Springs school to create a space for Latino preschoolers and their families.
Olivia Rocamora, the dean of Weber’s Spanish program, and Los Niños Primero have joined forces to design and equip a preschool room at El Centro Católico Del Espíritu Santo (Holy Spirit Catholic Church) on Northwood Drive, an area lacking in that type of facility.
Los Niños Primero (Kids First) is a nonprofit, year-round educational program for children ages 3 to 6. It also has a volunteer program for teenagers, many of whom went through the school as youngsters, and those teens are helping their peers at Weber prepare the space.
Rocamora said the project began with a fundraising competition that in nine days raised $1,100. “All our students raised money. It was so moving. Some were saying, ‘Here’s my baby-sitting money.’ They got passionate about helping, and even when it was over, they still wanted to give money and were examples to their peers.”
The daughter of Cuban immigrants, Rocamora is “the perfect candidate to lead this collaboration,” said Ashley Lewman, the development coordinator at Los Niños Primero. “My hat is off to her. This is something the teens, Jewish and Latino, are doing together — creating a place where families and children can come and really feel safe and welcomed.”
Lewman said Latino families are the backbone of Sandy Springs. “These are people who are feeling under siege right now, and they are right here doing a lot of the work our own people don’t want to do. It’s the most vulnerable population here, particularly the children.”
The space will eventually include a large mural based on literary themes, and that artwork will be a joint effort. A design will be drawn based on students’ impressions of books they are reading in Rocamora’s class. It will then be projected onto a wall, and they will fill it in with paint.
The development of the mural will be under the guidance of artist Betsy Cañas Garmon, who said the common theme is connectivity.
“We will explore what it looks like to come from divergent backgrounds and be in the same community and shared space,” Garmon said. “I really can’t tell what it’s going to be yet. That depends on what the Weber students see, what they envision.”
Rocamora said she grew up with Latino culture and literature and was a Spanish major in college. “I applied to Weber because I like the values of Jewish education — questioning and debating, trying to blur the lines a bit and challenge each other — so I knew I wanted to teach Spanish but also challenge kids why we learn it and how we engage with Spanish-speaking communities.”
She started a travel program at Weber of immersion into Spanish culture with Jewish roots “so that students see that being Jewish is not a specific skin color or language; they are brothers and sisters all over the world in different cultures,” Rocamora said. The program has taken students to Argentina and Cuba, with Spain next on the agenda.