Music is cultural bridge in teacher of the year's classroom
It was the highly anticipated Club Latino, an annual event run by teacher Bill Conway.
The school's Spanish-speaking students take over the class for a day, explaining their varied cultures to their non-Hispanic classmates. Then, they teach them Latin dance steps.
It's just one of the many efforts that Conway makes to reach out to his students, and one of the reasons that he is the state PTA's teacher of the year.
The Hispanic students not only demonstrate their dances; they also teach them to any student who wants to learn.
Conway was persuaded to join in the salsa dancing for a few moments Thursday.
"Go, Mr. Conway!" a student called out.
Conway said Club Latino started when he first came to Parker six years ago. A student from Nicaragua was tired of people thinking he was from Mexico and wanted an opportunity to talk about his own culture.
Students talked about differences in holidays, school and parental discipline.
"It's awesome," Uruguay native Edison Davila said Thursday. "This way, they get a chance to learn about us."
Senior Cinthia Tellez emceed a class Thursday, introducing different dance styles. She showed dances from the Caribbean as well as her native Mexico.
"Reggaeton is more of a free style. You get to do pretty much what you want," Tellez said.
"Keep it clean, please," she added, eliciting laughs.
Conway said he sometimes has to intervene when students dance too suggestively to the pulsing reggaeton beat.
"It's a day when they can feel proud about themselves," Conway said of the Hispanic students. "They're good kids. I've never had a problem."
Conway said he always learns something from the students.
Conway, an Edgerton native, spends part of his year in Japan, where his wife is from. He said he makes good money playing American country music there. He volunteers to oversee a Japanese language club at Parker as well as a guitar club.
Conway said students have come up to him since he was named teacher of the year, sure that the letters of support they wrote were the ones that garnered him the award.
"I didn't think it would mean nearly as much, but it was nice, when they would say that," he said.
Fellow teacher Deri Wahlert, in one of the letters supporting his nomination, said Conway works hard.
"The students at Parker High School know Bill as a high-energy teacher who uses enthusiasm and humor to engage his students and help them achieve. Most importantly, he strives to earn their respect," Wahlert wrote. "His effectiveness as a teacher is based upon establishing and maintaining mutual expectations, using humor to spark and retain interest and developing creative assessments."
Wahlert also is impressed with Conway's overtures to students whose first language isn't English: "The way he is able to reach this population of students is amazing and one that many veteran teachers cannot master," Wahlert wrote.
In addition to the Japanese and guitar clubs, Conway is the school's auditorium manager, putting in "countless hours in the auditorium helping run musicals, plays, ceremonies and concerts," Wahlert wrote. "He goes above and beyond the normal contract day just to help kids."