In the heart of DeKalb County, Peachtree Middle School is a mecca for vibrant celebrations and invaluable lessons as National Hispanic Heritage Month is evident throughout the hallways. Principal Michelle Perez, who is of Hispanic and Puerto Rican descent, has been leading the charge to create an engaging and inclusive environment for her students during this special month of recognition.

National Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated annually from September 15 to October 15 in the United States, is a time to honor the contributions and influences of Hispanic Americans on the nation’s history, culture, and achievements. The DeKalb County School District (DCSD) boasts a student population that’s approximately 20 percent Hispanic/Latino heritage. That’s impressive, but Peachtree Middle School has a remarkable 45 percent of its students representing this community.

Principal Perez, enthusiastic about embracing her students’ backgrounds, has seized the opportunity to dive into this annual celebration of the Hispanic heritage alongside her students. She’s been actively engaging with parents, fostering discussions about their Hispanic backgrounds and the countries they come from.

One of the standout activities at Peachtree Middle School during National Hispanic Heritage Month is the classroom door decorating contest. Teachers and students transform their doors into vibrant showcases of decorations, facts, and flags from various Hispanic countries. The school also features trivia during morning announcements and explores the achievements of historical figures from the Hispanic community.

“It’s been awesome to learn from [the decorative doors] as I walk the building and read on the doors the different people they’ve chosen to highlight,” said Principal Perez. “We present a fact that the kids have to talk about in their classrooms, and then they call into the front office, almost like the radio, and we give them prizes for guessing it right.”

Beyond the knowledge gained, these lessons foster meaningful interactions among students and teachers, encouraging conversations about their diverse backgrounds. Seventh grader Brithany Avila also expressed her appreciation for having a Hispanic principal.

“We have someone to talk Spanish with, to talk about all of our problems, and someone who understands us,” Brithany said. “She’s a really nice principal who always understands how we feel. She makes the school fun but at the same time educational.”

Fellow students Aviv Balsar and Michael Williams echoed these sentiments, praising Principal Perez’s leadership and the educational opportunities.

“I like how she’s not one of the mean principals. She tries hard for the school, makes everybody smile, and makes everybody’s day,” Michael said.  “I learned where Mexico is on the map and its cool qualities, such as the great food.

Aviv agreed. “I didn’t know much about the Hispanic heritage, so it’s been really fun to learn new things about it.”

Principal Perez’s journey to leadership at Peachtree Middle School is inspiring. She began her career as a teacher in 2015 and, through her dedication and impact, gradually assumed roles of increasing responsibility. Her journey culminated in her appointment as the school’s principal in 2021, making her the youngest DCSD principal at just 28 years old.

While she had initially set out to be a teacher, Principal Perez embraced each opportunity to advocate for her students and make a difference through a more prominent role.

“I always joke that becoming principal happened by accident because I’ve always just wanted to teach,” said Principal Perez. “I absolutely love teaching. It’s my first love, but things just kept moving. I love kids and advocating for them, and each position allowed me to do that on a bigger scale.”

Principal Perez’s leadership is leaving an indelible mark on Peachtree Middle School. Her vision for this school year is centered on student social and emotional support, aiming to ensure that every student feels cared for, respected, and valued.

“It’s about being able to go up to any student in the building and ask them if they feel cared for,” she emphasized. “Do you feel like this is a safe place to come to school where you can learn without feeling like you’re not cared for, respected, or valued? That’s been the major push for this year.”

Although National Hispanic Heritage Month is officially drawing to a close for 2023, Principal Perez promises to continue to inspire her students and staff, creating a warm and inclusive environment where diversity is celebrated and every student feels a sense of belonging.