Island Teachers Study Portuguese in Brazil


Two staff members at the Tisbury School went the extra distance this summer to foster a more productive relationship with Brazilian students and their parents.

Charlie Braun and Emily Broderick spent a month in Brazil, studying both the Portuguese language and the local culture. Mr. Braun was in Salvador, and Mrs. Broderick visited Maceio.

Mr. Braun, of West Tisbury, is in his third year as the school's psychologist and counselor. Ms. Broderick, of Chilmark, began as a reading teacher at the school 15 years ago, and this year was promoted to a new position - director of curriculum and instruction for the Islandwide school system.

Both were inspired to take the journey as a result of the increasing number of Brazilian students.

Four years ago, nine Brazilians were a part of the student body, said Tisbury School principal Maureen DeLoach. Last year, the number of Brazilian students hit an all-time high of 32. This year, the number is down slightly, at 28, but still represents almost 10 per cent of the student body.

Over the years, Mrs. Broderick taught many children at the school how to read, including a Russian boy and a Chinese girl, neither of whom were fluent in English when they enrolled.

Seven years ago, she taught her first Brazilian students, two girls. But unlike her previous foreign students, they were harbingers of more to come: In subsequent years, the number of Brazilian students only increased.

"At that time," said Mrs. Broderick, "the school system had no English as a Second Language (ESL) personnel on the staff."

Today, there is an ESL teacher in the school system as well as a fluent Portuguese-speaking teacher, Maria Andrade, at the Tisbury School. Ms. Andrade was hired full-time for this school year after working part-time last year.

Mrs. Broderick and Mr. Braun took it upon themselves to help bridge the gap between the two cultures. Both spent their own money for the study abroad program.

"Given the fact we have this huge rise and growing Brazilian population, and that they often come in here to my office, I thought it would be great if I could be able to speak with them," Mr. Braun said.

"Where the children would learn English in a year, the parents often do not learn English easily or at all," he added. "Kids need to learn to keep up with their peers, but parents often have their support system and their native language at home or on their job site."

Mrs. Broderick made the effort for a similar reason: "I felt I could be helpful with the families and the kids if I knew Portuguese. Plus I had been learning some just from working here and translating things because I was teaching them to read."

Both did receive support from the school and the school district for their effort.

"The school supported me. I left before school ended and was put on a professional leave and received some financial assistance," said Mrs. Broderick.

"I paid for the whole thing," said Mr. Braun. "With a little help from the principal and school district, I got some money back. It was a real show of support, and I appreciated that."

Miss DeLoach said,"We feel with so many Portuguese-speaking students in the school that there should be a two-way street. Already Mr. Braun's experience has been so helpful. Parents need someone to talk to, and he has filled that void."

The demand for Mr. Braun's knowledge is clear. At the start of this school year, there were six new non-English-speaking Brazilian students. They had come to the Island for the first time this year.

Mr. Braun feels he is making a difference in such cases. "I really feel I am making headway with the parents and the children who don't know English. They walk in the door, and it's my obligation to find out who they are. There are things I want to say to them from a counselor point of view. Now everyday I am using Portuguese."

Mr. Braun spent his month abroad with a Brazilian family and studied the language five days a week at the Diálogo School. He also took samba dance, percussion and cooking lessons in the heart of the city.

After immersing himself in the culture, he said, he has returned with a greater understanding of Brazilian ways.

"I learned about the cultural norm," said Mr. Braun. Food, television, how Brazilians relate to each other - these are just some of the facets of the culture he grew to understand.

Mr. Braun has on a shelf in his office a box of Brazilian candies he brought back with him from his trip. In the corner of his room, a Brazilian flag hangs.

He spoke about his first experiences being back in school conversing with Brazilians in their own language. "At first, people are surprised that Portuguese is coming out of my mouth," said Mr. Braun. "I try to to make it as fluid as possible. When I am searching for a verb, they know it and throw it back at me in a very helpful way. It feels great, like a really good connection."

A year before Mrs. Broderick took her trip, she had taken Portuguese 101 and 102 at the Nathan Mayhew Seminars on the Island.

When she arrived in Maceio, her baggage was lost, she had trouble with the phones and the school's computer didn't allow her to access her on-line address book. As a result, she was thrown head first into the culture.

Her reward, she said, was a better understanding of the culture - for instance, the pace of life and what she called a lax attitude about time.

She is now also helping to teach English to adult Brazilians, in courses at the regional high school.

Mrs. Broderick's job this year has her mapping out what is being taught in the Island schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, and to point out areas were there could be further development.

"One of my goals in this new job," she said, " is to integrate the Brazilian culture on the Island into the schools. I think it can be done."

For example, she suggested the fourth and fifth-grade media classes could make a bilingual video tour of the school for one of their projects.

"Brazilians are coming to the Island and staying," said Mrs. Broderick. "They are here to stay. The school is beginning to gear up to start handling the numbers."