CANOGA PARK : Children Focus Attention on Cesar Chavez

One after another, youngsters at Nevada Avenue School spoke in high, clear voices, reading from index cards about the man who had fought so hard for his people.

Many fidgeted and giggled. Others beamed. Overall, the children had the same combination of grace and stumbles that accompanies most elementary school performances.

This presentation was different, though.

For the first time, about 180 participating students at this Canoga Park campus were focusing on Cesar Chavez.

Two years ago, the Los Angeles Board of Education declared the first Wednesday of June as Cesar Chavez Day, encouraging area schools to give the founder of the United Farm Workers Union of America the same recognition accorded the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and some U.S. Presidents.

Chavez founded the union and organized a successful grape boycott in the mid-1960s. He fought for the rights of impoverished migrant workers through fasting, marches and other nonviolent means.

"These children should be aware of this man who gave so much," said Donna Dicker, a fifth-grade bilingual education teacher who organized the 90-minute program of recitals, songs, dancing and food.

Students in the first through fifth grades spent three weeks preparing for the event, which alternated between English and Spanish narratives. They memorized songs, rehearsed traditional dances and decorated the school auditorium with multicolored flowers made from construction paper.

The program is especially important for Nevada Avenue School, where more than half the students are Latino, said Principal Tom Stevens.

"We have a very large Hispanic population that has been increasing over the past few years," Stevens said. "This is the first time we've celebrated Cesar Chavez Day. We'll probably expand it"

Several parents, who brought food ranging from enchiladas to McDonald's hamburgers, were pleased at the chance for their children to learn about Chavez.

"Cesar Chavez means a great deal to the Mexican community," said Miriam Espana, whose son Rodney is a fourth-grader at the school. "The act of sacrifice he made for the Mexican Americans extends through the U.S.

"Cesar Chavez showed us through his acts to fight peacefully for our human rights and dignity. There still needs to be change today and they [the schoolchildren] need to grow up knowing that."

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