Brazilian students on the path to success

Talita Destefani, who moved here from Brazil three years ago, is looking forward to Sunday's graduation ceremony. She plans to work towards a career in dentistry. Photo by Susan Safford

By Eleni Collins - June 8, 2006

The transition from Island elementary schools to the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) is one filled with change. It is also one that local students are assimilated into slowly by attending junior high dances and going on Island-wide field trips. But for two Brazilian students who moved to Martha's Vineyard at the start of their high school careers, their integration proved to be difficult. As they both approach graduation, however, their efforts seem worthwhile.

Talita Destefani and Dilcelia Guimaraes are both part of the MVRHS class of 2006, and are two of the eight graduating seniors from Brazil.

Talita moved here three years ago from the city of Barra De São Francisco, located in the state of Espirito Santo on the central coast of Brazil. She came with her mother and brothers to visit her father, who first arrived on the Vineyard in 2000.

"When he came here, first he went to Boston, but there weren't a lot of jobs there so then he came here," said Talita. After a brief visit, Talita, her mother, Sonia, and two brothers Mateus, 15, and Tiago, 17, settled on Martha's Vineyard in 2003.

Dilcelia Guimaraes, Talita's classmate, who will also graduate with the 2006 senior class, is also excited and ready to leave high school and begin the next part of her life.

One of eight graduating seniors from Brazil, Dilcelia Guimaraes said the high school's ESL program was a great help to her when she first arrived on the Island. Photo by Ralph Stewart

Dilcelia's family is also from Espirito Santo, in the city of Alto Rio Novo. They began their lives on the Vineyard much like Talita's. "My father, he first came here a long time ago, I was like five," said Dilcelia. "Then he came back to Brazil, and then decided to come back here again."

Dilcelia and her younger brother, Filho, 17, were the last of her immediate family to make the move to Vineyard Haven. She joined her younger sisters, Celena, eight, and Laudiceia, 13, in 2002.

Dilcelia said she has a permanent resident card, also known as a "green card," which she said allows her to be in the United States for 10 years before she has to apply for another.

Both girls came to the United States with very limited English. Talita arrived on the Vineyard after she had completed her sophomore year of high school in Brazil. The guidance department at MVRHS recommended that she repeat her second year to help her adjust. "The next year, they told me I could jump to senior year, but I didn't want to, even though it was not that hard," she explained.

Dilcelia began her freshman year of high school here after leaving Brazil, and gives a lot of credit to the English As a Second Language (ESL) program taught at the high school. "ESL helped a lot. They introduced me to American culture and everything else," said Dilcelia. "First it was really hard because I spoke no English and no one would come talk to me. They gave me classes where there was nobody who spoke Portuguese. We took ESL classes, but we had to take other classes too."

Although she has improved her English significantly since she moved here, Dilcelia remembers her first high school experience where the language barrier was evident. "I was in this Spanish class and I didn't know any Spanish. The first day the teacher gave us a quiz and it was very embarrassing for me."

Talita attributes her English-speaking abilities to her church friends and helpful Brazilian classmates. "The first year was very hard because I didn't speak any English. I go to church here so it was easy to make friends there," Talita said. "Also, when you're new in school, all the Brazilian boys are very helpful and easy to make friends with."

In addition to learning English and succeeding in school, Talita has been working since the year she came to the Island. She and her family are employees of Cronig's Market in Vineyard Haven and West Tisbury.

During her senior year, Talita participated in the high school mentorship program on the recommendation of Shauna Nute, her guidance counselor. She worked directly with Island dentist Garrett Orazem of Edgartown for the first two quarters of her senior year, while also working at Cronig's.

Aside from her growing love of dentistry, Talita is on her way to becoming trilingual: one of her favorite classes in high school was French. Hinting towards a true yearning for academia, she added, "I like math, English, all of the classes I took. Childcare class too. I made a lot of American friends there."

Although there are exceptions, both students feel there is friction between the Brazilian and American students. In Talita's eyes, the two cultures do not mix very easily. "Some of the Americans didn't really like us. I don't know why. They didn't tell me anything, but they look at you in a different way. But, I don't care," she said with a laugh.

At the end of their three- and four-year experiences at the regional high school, both Talita and Dilcelia are looking forward to graduating. "I am going to Cape Cod Community College to the dental hygienist program, and maybe I'll apply to dentistry school after that," said Talita. "After the mentorship with Dr. Orazem I learned that I really liked it."

Dilcelia will most likely take a semester off before she starts college, and is planning a trip back to her hometown. "I'm going to be working at Martha's Vineyard Insurance and will wait until September or January to decide what I'm going to do," said Dilcelia. "I'm going back to Brazil in December for three weeks and when I come back I plan on having everything in my mind figured out."

Eleni Collins of Oak Bluffs, a May graduate of Boston University, is a summer writing intern at The Times.