Tisbury School exploring Portuguese program

The Tisbury School under construction - MV Times

Officials with the Tisbury School are exploring the idea of offering a new Brazilian Portuguese class at the K–8 school.

With many students from Portuguese-speaking backgrounds, some parents and teachers say that non-Portuguese-speaking students have a difficult time interacting with their peers. And with an Island with a considerable Brazilian population, being able to speak the language would be beneficial when entering the local workforce.

Tisbury School committee chair Amy Houghton says the idea came from a recent school committee meeting, where a group of advocates asked whether the school could offer the language.

“You look at what [the class] could mean for building bridges between the community members, and also opportunities for people who want to look at staying on the Vineyard and raising a family,” Houghton tells The Times. “So many jobs rely upon people being able to speak and communicate in English and Brazilian Portuguese. So for me it seems like a no-brainer that we should do that.”

According to state statistics from the department of education, about 54 percent of students at the Tisbury School have a first language other than English.

Houghton says that conversations about the program are still in their infancy, including when it might be offered, and the costs and class size associated. 

She says that the school’s foreign language teachers will have to be consulted as well. “There are many considerations that have to be put in place before we can launch a pilot project,” Houghton said.

She adds that the idea is fueled by the school’s Spanish teacher’s plan to retire.

“We in Tisbury have an opportunity, I would say, to add Brazilian Portuguese to our school because … our Spanish teacher is leaving. [The school has] posted for the Spanish position, and not had much success in getting a Spanish teacher,” she said at a Thursday All-Island School Committee meeting.

Houghton said that she would like to see Spanish remain at the Tisbury School, and says the school would have to decide whether to make Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese a joint offering. 

“Ideally, we would like to do a combination of Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish, so that you could have the option, and see how the course runs,” she said on Thursday.


  1. Please send a photographer for the 5 minute walk up the hill to get a current photo of the building project. This one is so out of date, and I imagine your readership would like to see the incredible progress being made on the school- not to mention the blooming cherry trees.

  2. Intention: “integration”
    Result: “segregation”

    Generations of immigrants, including my own family, have come here and the ones that succeed the most followed the same path: “assimilation”.

    This reeks of “woke gone bad”. Please stop.

    • This isn’t segregation, it’s education. They’re talking about replacing Spanish classes, a language that few people on the Island speak, with Brazilian Portuguese, a language spoken widely here. This seems like a fantastic idea to me.

      • I don’t mean to be disputatious, but do we expect island children to remain here indefinitely for their entire lives? Where else in this country would Portuguese be more useful than Spanish? On the other hand, at least it’s more useful than French.

        • Once you’re fluent in Portuguese, Spanish is much easier to learn. The point is the kids actually have a good chance of learning Portuguese because they could practice it all the time, not just at a desk in a class room.

    • Please explain how teaching English speakers Portuguese results in “segregation”. Like please provide a single fact beyond just stating it.

    • Luis– I don’t see anything in the article that
      one group will exclusively speak Portuguese and the
      other group will exclusively speak English. The best
      way to quickly assimilate into a society is to speak the
      language. I don’t get the problem.

    • Speaking as a member of the English-speaking population that everyone’s supposed to assimilate into, I disagree. My maternal grandfather was in the Consular Service. As a result, my mother was born in Mexico City (and was known all her life as Chiquita, because she was a 10-pound baby) and one of my uncles in Alicante, Spain. My mother and her mother were both fluent in Spanish, and close to fluent in French. They spoke Spanish to each other when they didn’t want us kids to understand what they were saying. They never included us in the conversation.

      I’ve never completely stopped resenting them for this. I studied both Spanish and French and have a passable reading knowledge of the former and (with lots of help from the dictionary) can fake a reading knowledge of the latter. As an editor, I’ve worked on the books and papers of non-native speakers whose command of written English puts many of my countryfolk to shame — and they’re fluent in two, three, or four other languages besides. I applaud Tisbury’s initiative and hope it spreads to other schools.

  3. Amazing 🙂 I really hope OB follows suit as soon as possible!! It’s such a benefit for the children to be bilingual and they all have an opportunity for immersion language learning. I see it only as a benefit all around 🙂

  4. Other countries worldwide speak at least two languages and some speak more than that. A bilingual education only improves a student’s chances of connecting with others in our very diverse world. It’s a good thing!

  5. We should have done this years ago. Our kids could graduate from HS bilingual, a big leg up for the college bound and a total asset for those who will run or work in our island businesses. The existing K-8 labnguage programs are always hard to staff, intermittent and insufficent. Portuguese is a language the kids can practice every single day. Brilliant idea, let’s get it done island wide.

  6. “The existing K-8 labnguage programs are always hard to staff, intermittent and insufficent”. Please explain. My children have never had a problem with the existing programs.

    • Just reflecting on the experience of one son at Tisbury school and one at WT: the Spanish programs came and went, always shrinking, never expanding. Lot of teacher turnover. neither kiddo ever got much past Hola, Me gusta la playa, and counting to 10.

      • None, alas. And that’s exactly why I’d love to see kids now have serious second language classes from K onward, so they’d have a chance at fluency by the time they graduated high school.

    • John– you never fail to disappoint with a negative comment
      about a story trying to help someone other than privileged
      white people.

  7. Geraldine, I could not agree more. In the future this program could result in a bilingual island. It may also result in more assimilation by Brazilian students, because there will be more interaction between them and others. The Brazilians are going to learn English. Let the other kids learn Portuguese. A great opportunity that we have been overlooking

  8. Educating our students is about preparing them for the future which is likely to not include living on MV due to simple economics. For many to be able to get into college they need 3 to 5 years of specific language credits. Does Brazilian/Portuguese fulfill this requirement?

  9. Thank you, Elisha, Brenda, Jasmine, Donna, Geraldine, and Tom. You’re right, an amazing idea.

  10. Great leadership Tisbury! Bilingualism should be a path for all of our students. This is not a Portuguese vs. Spanish argument, it’s about offering a pathway for proficiency in both.
    Moving in this direction is logical and opens the door for very rich, immediate and engaging education for all students.
    Which is the most difficult language to learn? Answer: Your first. After that, they all become more easy to acquire. Multilingualism is the reality for most people on the planet. It’s simply better than monolingualism. This is long overdue and I applaud Tisbury for considering this change in programming.

  11. I have been saying this to my grandchildren in elementary and high school for years! Learning Portuguese is a no-brainer in this community.
    It will help them in the trades and any business here. I agree it should be done Island Wide.
    Susan A

  12. Excellent idea to have a Brazilian Portuguese teacher in the Tisbury School and in all the schools, really. The statistic that the TS is 54% Brazilian and the fact that on the Vineyard one in four is Brazilian. it is so important to teach Brazilian in all the schools. It would be a huge gesture of kindness and thoughtfulness to be able to communicate with and welcome our wonderful hardworking Brazilian community. https://www.bostonglobe.com/2022/09/19/opinion/immigrants-who-were-already-marthas-vineyard/

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