West Point Middle School Students Learn Beyond Textbooks
by Michelle Schneider, U.S. Military Academy at West Point
“I shall not spare any effort or trouble for the benefit of the
colonies.” These bold words demonstrated the courage of Bernardo de
Galvez from Spain.
The history of Galvez was brought back to
life by Guillermo Fesser in his children’s book, “Get to know
Bernardo de Galvez.” Fesser visited West Point Middle School on
December 5, 2019 as a guest speaker for the Hispanic Author’s
December 5, 2019 - Guillermo Fesser speaks and laughs with students while teaching them about the processes involved with developing a children’s book at the West Point Middle School.(Photo by Michelle Schneider, U.S. Military Academy at West Point)
Spanish and ESL teacher Domenica Conte said that leaders,
teachers and parents at West Point are a tight-knit community
dedicated to enriching students’ experiences during school. They
regularly host assemblies throughout the year to expose students to
international perspectives and future career options. The Hispanic
Author Assembly was one example of a well-rounded learning
“The whole school assembly involves everything
we do in social studies and addresses the fine arts as far as the
book itself,” Conte said. “The story talks about a Spanish military
leader, a colonial governor of Spanish Louisiana, contemporary of
George Washington and for (the person) whom Galveston, Texas is
named. He’s a historical figure in the Spanish world and in American
Fesser’s visit was not just about a history lesson,
although that is one of West Point Middle School leader's learning
objectives. He also taught students about the process of writing a
children’s book, from character design to scene perspectives such as
how lighting is used to create different moods. Fesser, a Spanish
journalist, radio personality and television producer has used his
background to research and write several books.
assembly, he also shared that after moving from Madrid to the United
States, he realized there were many references about Spanish culture
in the country that he never thought about. He discovered the oldest
synagogue in New York City was founded by a Spaniard, that the
Hudson River was originally called the Rio San Antonio and that the
state of Oregon was named after oregano fields by Spanish travelers.
“I started thinking, what is happening here? At that time,
the politics in our country were changing and there was a lot of
animosity about the immigrants and the Latinos. Things were said,
that they did not belong here, they are trying to get our jobs and
they are newcomers,” Fesser said. “So, I went to a publisher in
Miami and said that we need to tell the real story. We don’t have to
preach, just tell the story about the Spanish roots in this country.
Latinos are part of the textile of America and I said, I think I
know the way.”
He went on to share that he found an American
Spanish hero named Bernardo de Gálvez who has a story that could
help bring things into perspective. Fesser said at the time of the
Revolutionary War, two-thirds of the United States was called New
Spain. Without the help of those two-thirds or the Latino people who
lived there during the war, Fesser believes George Washington would
not have achieved independence.
“I would love for the
students to know that the people who speak Spanish in the United
States belong here as much as anyone else. They are not newcomers,
not everyone is illiterate, poor and miserable. There are Latino
people who have done crucial stuff for this country, are part of the
history and they helped to make this country the way it is,” Fesser
said. “Hopefully what I see is the Latino kids in school get back
the pride and self-esteem that has been taken from them with all
this rhetoric that we hear.”
After the Hispanic Author
Assembly, eight students from Conte’s classes were selected to
partake in a reflection group to talk about what they learned.
December 5, 2019 - From left to right, students Charlotte Black (Grade 8), Christopher Ortega (Grade 7), Mario Gonzalez Marquez (Grade 6), Franki Gonzalez Marquez (Grade 6), Nicholas Keehn (Grade 8), Maddie McInvale (Grade 8) and Gabriela Moreno (Grade 8) pose with Guillermo Fesser (center) before participating in a reflection group.
(Photo by Kerri Schools)
During the discussion, students shared how the assembly provided
them an opportunity to be educated about the research, linguistic
and artistic processes involved in illustrating a book.
asked why they think West Point Middle School hosts these types of
events, one student shared there is much to learn beyond what they
are taught in school.
“I think it’s to show us different
career opportunities and to educate us about how Mr. Fesser did
research and found that there’s more than what is shown to you in
school and you can look beyond what you’re taught,” eighth grader
Nicholas Keehn said.
Another eighth grade student shared her
idea of one of the most important messages she took away from the
“I liked his message about how everyone belongs even
though they come from different backgrounds and have different
interests,” Maddie McInvale said. “I thought it was cool that his
motivation was for his children and that he wanted to show them that
they belong just as much as any American and that we are all
A sixth grader shared a different perspective of
the importance of why events like the Hispanic Author Assembly are
important, which is to broaden peoples’ understanding and acceptance
through learning more about history.
“West Point was part of
the war, and if West Point wasn’t here and the Spanish people did
not help, the war may have taken too long, or the Americans may have
surrendered,” Francisco Gonzalez Marquez said.
Middle School regularly hosts events throughout the year with
advanced learning objectives to expand students’ cultural awareness,
open their world to various careers and inspire them to use as many
resources as they can to learn.
Conte shared that she hopes
that the assemblies and school events will make an impact on her
“There are little things, even in your youth, that
will just click. And you’ll say, ‘You know what, I’d really like to
do this. This is something that speaks to me,’ and so that’s what we
want to do,” Conte said. “We throw little bread crumbs out there for
the children and this way they say this really speaks to me or I
understand. Many will come back years later and say, ‘I remember
when you did this, and it was so much fun.’ It’s life experiences
that speak to many of the children, and that’s what we want the
children to get from the assemblies.”