Uniondale kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month last Saturday with its third annual Soccer Jamboree at Cornelius Court Elementary School — a celebration of Hispanic culture and pride featuring guest speakers, food, musical performances, salsa lessons and, of course, soccer.
“This is an event to celebrate our Latino community, our Hispanic community, and bring everybody together by combining our passion for football — which is soccer — with food and music,” Estrella Olivares-Orellana, the Uniondale school district’s director of multilingual learners and a former bilingual science teacher, said.
The jamboree started in 2021 under Superintendent Monique Darrisaw-Akil. Through the combined efforts of Olivares-Orellana, her department of multilingual learners, and Darrisaw-Akil, Uniondale is focusing on its goal of increasing the number of students who graduate with the seal of biliteracy, which recognizes students who become proficient in two or more languages.
To do this, the district is working from the ground up. It is launching a dual-language kindergarten program, and now offers a Latino mentoring program — an initiative championed by Gov. Kathy Hochul in which young Latino students work with adult mentors who support and empower them, serving as role models and connect them with resources such as internships, scholarship opportunities and professional development.
The district is also making the most of its demographics — it is 60 percent Hispanic — by staging events like the jamboree to celebrate the culture of Uniondale’s Latino community.
“It’s about fostering relationships and building bonds with our parents, our students, and to let them know that they’re welcome, that they have a family here,” Addie Blanco-Harvey, a Board of Education trustee, said. “Also, at the same time, we want to educate them about what’s going on in the district, about going to meet-the-teacher night, the importance of parent-teacher conferences and engaging in the education of their children.”
Each year for the jamboree, the district partners with the local Police Activity League, to provide coaching and all of the soccer equipment for the event. Coach Cohen Nelson, who has run the Uniondale PAL for 20 years and is also the head coach of the Uniondale High School boys’ soccer team, said that being able to give back to this community through the game of soccer is “the life and blood of my existence.”
“Giving back is the greatest thing ever,” Cohen said. “Starting from the grass-roots, you have an understanding that fundamental unity is the most essential thing.”