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McAllen Memorial High School celebrates student expression

This article was originally published in the Progress Times issue dated Friday, April 12, 2019.

Librarians Lupita Nava and Tracy Frey have been trying to make A Starry, Starry Night happen for a long time.

Last Thursday evening the Vicki Stroud Library at McAllen Memorial High School, in collaboration with Communities in Schools and the McAllen Independent School District Parental Involvement Program, celebrated student art, music and poetry by showcasing their work for parents throughout the campus. With the library decorated and lit in deep blues and yellows as their centerpoint, parents and students alike gathered for A Starry, Starry Night, a poetry slam and open mic night.

20190404 McAllenMemorialHSAt the same time, the McAllen Memorial mariachi, jazz band and orchestra serenaded attendees as they made their way through the halls, observing the paintings, sketches and sculptures from everyday students on display.

Nava, who has been in love with fine arts for as long as she can remember, said they have been trying to put this kind of event together for years.

“This has been a dream for me,” Nava said. “I’ve had this vision of doing this celebration of the arts just because it’s always been part of my life.”

Events that emphasize artistic expression will encourage young people to share more about themselves, according to Nava.

“Their artful expression can be anything,” Nava said. “I just feel it’s important that these kids get to express themselves.”

Nava added that when she approached the various fine arts directors at McAllen Memorial about participating in the event, all she had to do was ask. Frey, who started her career as a teacher in the La Joya Independent School District, said she took inspiration from when her school would put on art walks in the cafeteria.

“I wanted to bring that here,” Frey said. “I hope this is an annual event that we can make a tradition here, I want people to see how talented our students are.”

Carlos and Diana Garza, the directors of the McAllen Memorial theater program, noted that events that celebrate the arts give students who don’t usually participate the opportunity to showcase their budding talents.

“The students with talents in the arts need to be celebrated, they need to be put on the forefront,” Carlos Garza said. “There’s a lot of kids on our campus that have this hidden talent, and sometimes we don’t even know about it.”

Diana Garza said that students who do art outside of the school may be too shy to put themselves out there in public, and events like these make a difference.

“This is how we can get to know them, how their teachers can get to know them and make that connection,” Diana Garza said. “It’s a good outlet.”

The highlight of the evening was the poetry slam, which included readings of original poems by the students, and published poems that meant something to the reader. They ranged in focus from personal, adolescent struggles to matters on cultural identity.

The event included the participation of all students, not just those participating in fine arts activities within the University Interscholastic League (UIL). Principal Pedro Alvarez said he was excited to see the community come out to observe what the students are capable of.

“I really think the arts bring out the best in our kids in the community,” Alvarez said. “I think that involving kids that don’t get the opportunity to do UIL allows them to showcase what they can do.”

Dora Rodriguez, the Parent and Family Engagement Specialist in the McAllen ISD, said that A Starry, Starry Night was an opportunity to bring the family together.

“It opens those lines of communication,” Rodriguez said, adding that sometimes students are hesitant to show their parents what they are doing in school, so the parents participate less. “Events like these opens the door for the parents. Students feel comfortable [in the school environment], so they’re able to showcase what they know and do.”

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