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The Post Standard/Herald-Journal

Feliz Navidad, Manos; Grimes, Blodgett Schools Share Spanish-Speaking Celebration

Ngoc Huynh, Staff writer

23 December 2004
Copyright © 2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

Some Syracuse pre-schoolers who speak limited English got to talk to Santa in Spanish last week thanks to a group of students at Bishop Grimes Junior-Senior High School.

Students in level-four and advanced-placement Spanish hosted a Christmas party Dec. 16 for about 28 preschoolers from the Manos program.

The Manos program at Blodgett Elementary School in Syracuse provides bilingual education for preschoolers whose native language is not English. Manos means "hands" in Spanish. Most of the children are Latinos.

Besides the Spanish-speaking Santa, the holiday festivities included a story time in Spanish, a snowman pinata and gifts.

While the children - ages 2, 3 and 4 - attend Manos to learn English, their parents enroll in the Westside Learning Center to learn English as well as computer and employment skills, according to Theresa Pagano, founder of the Manos Early Childhood and Family Center and the Westside Learning Center.

Pagano said 90 percent of families are immigrants who have lived in Syracuse for six months or less. She said the Manos Christmas party at Bishop Grimes helps students learn about Latinos in Syracuse.

"It gives students an opportunity to practice their Spanish, and they get to see the culture come alive," Pagano said.

This is the fifth year Spanish students at Bishop Grimes have hosted a party for the Manos children.

About 20 parents from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, China and Korea came to the celebration with their children. Bishop Grimes students welcomed their guests with milk and cookies in the school cafeteria. Then, everyone headed to the library for story time.

The students read "Mientras Esperaba Papa Noel" (While We Wait for Santa), a Spanish story they wrote and illustrated.

After story time, a white dog puppet popped up from behind a bookcase.

"Hola ninos. Me llamo Snowball. Feliz Navidad," said the puppet. (Hello children. My name is Snowball. Merry Christmas).

Squeals and laughter filled the room and the children shouted "Feliz Navidad" to the puppet. They squealed some more when the image of Dora the Explorer appeared on the television set at the library.

Nancy Becerra, 4, clapped and jumped. When students asked everyone to sing along with Dora's Feliz Navidad song, Nancy smiled. Her mother, Nelly Martinez, of Syracuse, smiled to see Nancy singing and dancing.

"I'm very excited for the kids," Martinez said. "It's wonderful to come here and the kids are jumping up and down and getting excited."

Spanish teacher Barbara Bauersfeld has taught at Grimes for more than 30 years. Bauersfeld said her students also work with the Manos children in the summertime.

"I wanted my students to be able to use Spanish in a real life situation and at the same time do something good," she said. "We're on the receiving end of what we get with the Spanish and the joy."

Bishop Grimes students each donated $10 to buy presents for the Manos children. Their gifts included clothes, toys, coloring books, crayons and candy.

Before the Manos children left Grimes, their surprise guest was a big round man in a red suit.

"Ho, ho, ho," Santa said.

Several children ran up to Santa's legs and hugged him. Javier Arencibia, 3, and his twin brother, Raydel, copied his "ho, ho, ho."

Pagano asked the children to calm down and wait their turn to receive a gift from Santa.

"Esperen hasta que Santa Claus les llame," Pagano said. (Wait until Santa Claus calls your name)

When Santa gave the children their presents, many answered thank you or gracias.

Junior Samuel Prince, 17, played the jolly elf.

Prince lived in the south side of Chicago until he was 11.

He said he came from a poverty-stricken area so he can relate to some of the Manos children, who have little.

"The best part is seeing the kids happy," Prince said.

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