ESOL theater students get “on their feet” after seeing Gloria Estefan musical


Sanjay Fernando

The ESOL theater program travels to Washington, DC to visit the GALA Hispanic Theater.

Watkins Mill students in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Theater program visited the GALA Hispanic Theater on Thursday, May 19, 2022 to see the musical, On Your Feet!.

On Your Feet! tells the story of Gloria Estefan, a Cuban-American singer who achieved the seemingly impossible task of “crossing over” from a Spanish to English audience in the 1980s.

“Everything was so beautiful—their performance, their costumes, their development on stage,” freshman Delsy Diaz Lopez said.

An amalgamation of realistic, moving representation, On Your Feet! blended tense family dynamics, an enduring love between Gloria and her now-husband Emilio, and the struggles of being Latinx in a country plagued with racial barriers.  These intricately woven components grounded the play emotionally, deeply resonating with students who saw their language, heritage, and stories reflected on stage.

“I really liked their choreography, the professionalism of the actors, [and Gloria] Estefan’s beautiful songs,” freshman Dania Lopez-Lopez said.  “When Gloria triumphed, she showed that no matter the circumstances, anything can be done.”

As the students watched the play, they soon realized that the musical’s title, “On Your Feet!”, had two meanings. Not only was it the name of one of Gloria Estefan’s biggest hits, but it also alluded to the intense recovery Gloria underwent after she was left paralyzed from a tragic bus accident in 1991.

“She worked very hard to literally get back on her feet.  A lot of our students have to do that in their own lives—they don’t have easy lives,” Sharon Faber, ESOL teacher and creator of the ESOL Theater program, said.

Many students in the ESOL program are newcomers to America, often reuniting with parents and guardians after a decade of separation.  The reacclimation to a family—whose members are essentially strangers—and the adjustment to an entirely new country and a difficult language pose unimaginable challenges.

However, the musical served as “a social-emotional learning experience that allows them to break through whatever barriers they may have…to learning,” Faber said.

“The floodgates open and they are able to absorb more material, absorb more education,” Faber added.

Faber notices how many of her students begin obtaining excellent grades and make the honor roll after they are able to mentally move past the barriers, which watching representative theater, a form of social-emotional learning experience, supports.

The Wellness Center funded this field trip, ensuring that financial instabilities did not prevent these students—who attended free of charge—from seeing a story of Latinx triumph and tribulation emulated on stage.

“I heard it from my staff and students that it was pretty amazing to see people like them become actors and lead in this huge play,” Wellness Center site manager Lisette Dardon said.  “Just being able to show the students what they can become when they grow up…[and exposing] them to things like this is huge.”

Every year, Faber strives to plan a field trip to a theater performance that fosters cultural connection with her students, especially after recognizing how it portrays stories that echo their hardships.

As ESOL isolation remains an ongoing issue in school systems across the nation, this trip “makes them feel like they belong here,” Faber added.  “They’re a little bit more connected, not only [to] this country, but [to] their school.”

Bridging cultural gaps and hitting home with the challenges of being an immigrant, this outing to see On Your Feet!, highlights the importance of ESOL inclusivity, validates their struggles, and shows them that their “experiences are so respected, they’re being reflected on stage.”

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