Leading Through a Lens of Identity: Cresthaven Academy Principal Monica Villafuerte

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Monica Villafuerte Headshot for Hispanic Heritage Month Q&A

As a part of our Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, we sat down with Hispanic school leaders to learn about their heritage and how they celebrate this month.

Monica Villafuerte is the principal of Cresthaven Academy Charter School located in Plainfield, New Jersey. Here's what Hispanic Heritage Month means to her.

How Does Your Hispanic Heritage Impact Your Work?

When I was young, I never imagined myself as a teacher, let alone a principal and charter school leader. I didn’t see people who looked like me in the classroom or as administrators. Today, I am a proud first-generation Hispanic American, and I am raising second-generation Hispanic American children. My heritage impacts my work because it’s the lens through which I see the world.

It is a deep privilege to be able to look into the eyes of young children growing up as I did and tell them in English and Spanish that they truly can be anything they want to be. I model this for them by embracing my history, celebrating my Hispanic heritage, and letting it guide my work. 

How Does Your School Support Hispanic Students?

Cresthaven Academy Charter School exists to provide a comprehensive education to all our scholars. We serve a predominantly Spanish-speaking population and support our Hispanic students and families by providing translated communicationwritten and verbalfor everything we do. We are proud of our dynamic and inclusive parent engagement, which includes five years and counting of 100% parent participation at parent-teacher conferences. By providing translators for every parent meeting, phone call, and conference, we are inviting our Spanish-speaking parents to a seat at the table and, in turn, parents are more engaged with their child’s learning.

We also encourage our Spanish-speaking families to continue speaking Spanish at home, so students can continue to develop their bilingual skills. Lastly, we provide Sheltered English Instruction and ESL services for our English Language Learners. This Hispanic Heritage Month, in particular, we are celebrating that 100% of our current 5th grade scholars have now successfully exited the program.  

Why Do You Think Hispanic Heritage Month is Important?

I am so grateful that Hispanic Heritage Month has become something our country celebrates and honors. As a little girl born and raised in New York City, I often felt that I was not American enough, and as a child visiting Ecuador each summer, I didn't feel like I was Ecuadorian enough, either. It wasn't until I was an adult that I was able to embrace the beauty and power of being a first-generation Hispanic American. It is truly a privilege that my career led me to Cresthaven Academy where I have the opportunity to work alongside a diverse staff to support a predominantly Spanish-speaking school community.

This month, we get to be intentional about celebrating who we are as a community. I hope that all our students, regardless of where they were born or how they got here, know that they have a place in our country and our school. This month gives us room to embrace cultures and share the familiar pieces of our heritage, while also learning new pieces of the diverse culture surrounding us. When we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we tell Hispanic American children that it is okay to join their cultures and be proud of their rich heritage. I am honored to be a part of this work at Cresthaven Academy.

How is Your School Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month?

At Cresthaven Academy, we are celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month in a few special ways. In addition to infusing Latin songs, dances, and stories into brain breaks and lessons throughout the day, scholars are invited to share a favorite recipe that represents their culture. The recipes will be collected and shared school-wide for families to enjoy making at home. Classrooms are also engaging in door-decorating contests that will fill our hallways with the beauty of Hispanic culture and help scholars learn more about the person, country, or theme of their classroom’s door. As our grand finale celebration, we will host our annual Heritage Day on October 15. Instead of wearing school uniforms, scholars and staff are invited to dress in clothes that represent their heritage, culture, and/or family. We are looking forward to celebrating the diversity and rich heritage that make up Cresthaven Academy!


Kayley Pham is the coordinator of social and digital media at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.