In Profile: Epic Hispanic Student Organization Finds Connection

by Rylee Byers

School isn’t just about reading, writing and arithmetic; it’s about learning – and sometimes, that means learning about yourself, your culture and the lives and cultures of those around you.

At Epic, the Hispanic Student Organization makes learning about Hispanic culture a fun and safe space for all of their students.

The organization began as part of the school’s commitment to providing dual-language education with the opening of Heritage Academy. But HSO quickly became more than just another school club.

“The Hispanic Student Organization is a space for not just Hispanic students, but for all students in Epic,” said Luis Ortiz-Barreto, Hispanic Programs & Services specialist and HSO director. “It’s a place where you can come and learn about different cultural backgrounds, different countries – and also a space where we can learn about culture and what it means to us.”

HSO sparks conversation about Spanish-speaking countries. They provide a vision into the government, the language and the religion.

“It’s basically like traveling around the world, but without moving from Oklahoma: You’re traveling in the space and time, but you don’t have to actually physically get on a plane,” Ortiz-Barreto said. “It’s a time that we can have some social interaction with other students.”

HSO leadership meets at Epic’s Oklahoma City administration offices in October. Pictured are officers Nicolas Ortega, Maribel Lopez, Jameson Melendez, Alondra Ortiz, Dianeliz Hernandez and Saul Saenz (Luiz Ortiz-Barreto/Photo Provided)

The group not only meets at the Heritage Academy, but also includes social activities like field trips, coffee shop talks and volunteer opportunities.

Each activity is aimed at helping the Hispanic community and expanding learning beyond the classroom.

“One of the aspirations with Epic is the holistic approach: Basically teaching and covering the student and the whole aspect of the education system or program, where you cover the psychological aspect, the emotional aspect, the cultural aspect,” he said.

“The holistic approach includes culture and language and symbols and signs and learning about other places.”

HSO establishes an environment where students are encouraged to tell their stories and the successes and struggles they are facing inside and outside of Epic.

“I think that [HSO has] given me leadership skills – not only in the club, but also taking charge when I have responsibilities, whether that’s my house, whether that’s my swim team, whether that’s in school,” Alondra Ortiz, an Epic 10th-grade student and club member, said. “I think it’s really helped me.”

Like any club, the HSO also is about building relationships, which can be difficult in a largely virtual school.

“My favorite memory is when we go to coffee shops and we just discuss different cultures. We get to know one another and just meet each other in person, because sometimes when you’re in online school, it’s harder to make friends,” Ortiz said.

“I think it helps when you learn about other cultures. When you meet people from that culture, you know a little bit about them and you can just have a conversation about where they’re from.” Natalie Rebollar, an Epic 8th grader, said.

The HSO also teaches the students that just because they speak Spanish, it doesn’t automatically mean they are the same.

“I learned about all the other different countries that speak Spanish and that are Hispanic,” said Jameson Melendez, an Epic 9th grader. “I only knew Puerto Rican, because I am Puerto Rican. It was the only thing I knew that was Spanish. I definitely know a lot more after joining than I did before.”

The club isn’t just about having fun. It is about education and providing a safe environment for the students to learn and explore. Ortiz-Barreto said the group can be something like a support group – because, without the social and emotional support, the rest of their education may suffer.

“The reason I’m in online school is because of my anxiety,” Melendez said. “But going to the in-person meetings and even talking in the Zoom meetings has made me want to attend like other school functions that aren’t for this group.”

“I just love this group so much.”

The HSO also helps students get ready for graduation. Participating in volunteer opportunities with the group earns students volunteer hours, which translates to credits needed for graduation.

“It’s very exciting to learn new things, especially how other people learn in school and how they just do their everyday life compared to how we live,” Rebollar said. “It motivates me to want to learn more school.”

Above: Tulsa VLC Middle School students celebrate the Three Kings Day at the Tulsa VLC Jan. 6 (Photo Provided)

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