New course unites Portuguese speakers and learners

A face collage project for The Art of Language, Leadership, and Culture course at MVRHS. — Courtesy Ryan Giordano

By Sara Creato, Lila Mikos, and Ryan Giordano

Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) introduced – a new elective this semester called “The Art of Language, Leadership, and Culture.” Taught by drawing and painting teacher Tiffany Shoquist and Portuguese teacher Jane Sampaio, the course combines students learning Portuguese and native Portuguese speakers through the completion of projects and improvement of target language skills.

The course merged Ms. Shoquist’s English language learner (ELL) art class and Ms.  Sampaio’s newcomer course. Ms. Shoquist cites inclusion of the school’s Brazilian community as a primary reason for establishing the course. “[Ms. Sampaio and I] felt like there was a big hole in the school for helping our Brazilian population feel like they’re a part of MVRHS and a part of Martha’s Vineyard in general,” she said. “So we really wanted to make a space for those students, particularly the newcomers, giving them a chance to see themselves in the school.”

The projects and concepts covered by the class so far include Brazilian street artists, photography concerning personal memories, and a multilingual Black Lives Matter diversity project done in collaboration with Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School (MVPCS) Spanish teacher Victoria Dryfoos.

Junior Lukas Fernandes realizes the new perspectives that both the native Portuguese- and English-speaking students are able to gain from this class. “Anyone who has little or no experience with people from another country could benefit from the new perspectives this class can bring them, as well as the new people they can meet,” he said.

For sophomore Aiyana Correia, an implicit racial bias test the students took in class was particularly intriguing: “It was interesting because it assumed what you lean towards more as a comfort zone or a preference, and it was European Americans versus African Americans. At the end, you saw which you leaned towards more.”

The test concluded that Aiyana didn’t possess any implicit biases. The results didn’t come as a shock to her. “They didn’t surprise me just because I’m a very welcoming person overall, and I accept everyone. I felt like it was accurate,” she said.

Junior Bertrand Mullen appreciates the new learning environment that this class has afforded him. “I enjoy being in a class with ELL students. It’s a nice classroom environment,” he said. “[The class offers] a good opportunity to learn more from your peers and to create projects for our school.”

Ms. Sampaio emphasized the importance of a safe learning atmosphere. “The No. 1 most preventive thing in learning a foreign language or learning to speak is fear. When you’re talking about teenagers, it’s even worse, usually, because they are so full of this self-conscious worry. It is really important that you actually feel comfortable in the classroom in order to learn,” she said.

Ms. Shoquist hopes that she can lead by example. “I don’t speak Portuguese. When we do some of these projects, I am a learner in the classroom, too,” she said.

Ms. Sampaio appreciates the diversity of her students. “It’s a mixed bag, and I think that’s the beauty. We hope that the feel of the class is that all are welcome, and we’re going to find space for you, and a place.”