There are cultural events. But sometimes, there are cultural experiences—the culmination of efforts that results in something truly special.

Artwork representing proud traditions like Mexican yarn art and maskmaking, entertainment by flamenco dancers, a buffet with such Latino classics as tamales and flan—it sounds like a full-scale Hispanic festival, not a school event at a nondescript cafeteria in Chicago. The James G. Blaine Elementary PTA, winner of Outstanding Outreach to a Multicultural Parent Base in PTO Today’s 2013 Parent Group of the Year search, indeed created something special with Noche Hispana, a celebration of arts, crafts, music, food, and dance.

With Latinos making up just over a quarter of the population at the 950-student, preK-8 school, members of its bilingual action committee wanted to hold an event that would allow students and families to honor their culture, says PTA past president Cara Moroze.

A first step was setting up multiple after-school workshops for students to create pieces of art that would be displayed during the event. The free workshops, which the PTA played a particularly hands-on role in coordinating and executing, were held for several weeks leading up to Noche Hispana.

“Students of all ages participated. We felt it was really important to engage the student population across the board to get them engaged,” Moroze says. The workshops were led by parent volunteer and artist Maria Guasso, who provided the students with detailed instruction about the artwork’s cultural significance, including historical examples that inspired their creations.

For the big night, students transformed the school cafeteria by hanging tissue-paper decorations, Mexican folk art called papel picado. It was a special touch that Moroze says “brought joy to students and staff.”

At the event, the 200-plus attendees browsed the students’ art, then enjoyed a potluck buffet that planners were careful to keep to only authentic fare, such as tamales, flan, and Mexican roasted pork.

Shortly after the meal, several dance troupes, led in by students holding traditional Day of the Dead masks, showcased native Central and South American dances, including flamenco and cueca, the national dance of Chile. Audience members were invited to join in the dancing.

Moroze says the event was so successful, the PTA plans for a weeklong celebration—a Semana Hispana—for the 2013-14 school year. “It was a really nice opportunity to collaborate and do an event that celebrates Hispanic culture, which is such a vibrant part of our community,” she says.

And with the school’s music and art programs currently in jeopardy due to possible budget cuts, Moroze says, “It’s ever more important for the PTA to expose children to art and culture. It makes the event even more meaningful.”

What the judges loved: The activities included a focus on a number of different Hispanic and indigenous cultures, not just one group. Through art, music, and dance, students learned the significance of different practices within those cultures.

Cool fact: More than 125 students in 1st through 8th grades attended the art workshops before Noche Hispana. Among the student art displayed at the event were multiple versions of Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits, as well as paintings inspired by her husband, Diego Rivera.