Clearing Hurdles

Five years ago, federal investigators reported poorly on the efforts at the Oak Bluffs and Tisbury schools to serve their non-English speaking students. After a complaint that the schools’ lack of trained teachers, interpreters and appropriate materials were shortchanging Brazilian students, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights found indeed that staff were failing the needs of a growing population.

As those reports were revealed in the Gazette in 2003, the respective school principals already were beginning to address the issues. The schools recently had won an eighty thousand dollar state grant to hire six teaching assistants devoted solely to bolstering English skills for Brazilian students and helping classroom teachers.

Satisfying the government requirements easily could have become a paperwork problem; administrators could have ensured schools here complied with the letter of the law and left it at that.

They have not. Most impressively, Oak Bluffs School principal Laury Binney and his wife, Marcy Klapper, a reading teacher at the West Tisbury School, took leave (his was unpaid) to spend six months in Brazil, trying to better understand the challenges their students face when they arrive at Island schools.

The Island couple learned the language, visited schools, went to their students’ home towns, heard stories from the Vineyard’s unofficial sister cities in South America. Now returned, Mr. Binney is briefing staff and cooking up a Brazilian meal for the back-to-school barbecue. He is offering free Portuguese language classes for adults. He has made a short film to help bridge the cultural gaps.

Though often preferring to stay out of the news, Brazilians on the Vineyard are an integral part of this community and economy. We are neighbors, our children are classmates and friends.

These school leaders — and others who in less dramatic but critical ways are making concerted efforts to help every Island child have the best chance of success — are to be commended. Obrigada.