High schoolers reflect on Portuguese class

A Portuguese language arts class looks back as the school year ends.

Soares, left, and his students. —Daniel Greenman

“I sat down to write this text, but the words vanished; those bandits!” starts the letter Daniel Soares read to his 16 students.

Soares, a literature professor from Brazil, is spending his sabbatical teaching Portuguese at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. On Friday, he completed his second year imparting narrative- and essay-writing skills to high schoolers who are native speakers.

Though as Soares told the graduating seniors in his class, sometimes choking up along with them, they must now learn to say goodbye. 

“I arrived as a foreigner at this foreign school,” Soares said. “In this land so far and distant from ‘my people,’ suddenly it was you who became ‘my people.'”

The lesson was meant to be memorable, because Soares was leading his students through Aula da Saudade, a Brazilian academic tradition that approximately translates as “class of longing.”

Soares told The Times that in Brazil, only graduating seniors attend Aula da Saudade, although his students here are from various academic years. “They never have truma,” he said of his class, using a Portuguese term that refers to sharing the same classmates throughout school.

“In Brazil… you go through all classes with the same group up until you’re seniors. They become very friendly,” he said.

Students in the Portuguese Language Arts Essay class all speak Portuguese as a first language, and are either Brazilian natives or speak Portuguese at home. 

Many struggle to speak English, and enter the class with varying abilities to read and write in Portuguese. But on Aula da Saudade, students wrote for around half an hour, responding to prompts typical of the event. 

They wrote about things that none of their classmates would know, about a memory of school that they will never forget, and about something from the Island that they would bring to Brazil. 

Students presented their writing orally, and the entire class was conducted in Portuguese.

Julio Rossow, reflecting on his freshman year, said the Portuguese class was “the best class.”

He added, “I can learn how to spell some words, and reading and writing Portuguese.”

“I have never seen a class like this before,” he added.

Students each wrote from the prompts, then read what they had written to partners assigned through a kind of musical chairs activity.

Although Aula da Saudade is a bittersweet event, Soares and his students contributed a spread of homemade Brazilian foods for lunch, including feijão tropeiro (beans, sausage, collard greens), coxinha (chicken croquettes), maionese (comparable to potato salad), and more.

“In Brazil, there is nothing without food,” Soares told The Times.

Heyttor Nunes, a senior whose parents are from Brazil, said the language arts class differs from the Portuguese classes he took as a first-year and sophomore.

“That [older class] was like teaching people to say ‘Hi,’ and ‘How are you?’ This is completely different. I’d compare it to an AP literature class,” he said. 

Nunes said he has learned to speak Portuguese with grammatical accuracy, and to speak more professionally.

“The most challenging is learning correct verb tenses, and getting rid of my old bad habits when it comes to speaking another language. And, learning the correct way to speak when there’s so much slang.”

Nunes added that he is graduating with a seal of biliteracy, part of the Massachusetts Seal of Biliteracy Program. He said this will help his career — next year he will study criminal justice and sociology at Worcester State University, and wants to work later for the Oak Bluffs police department.

“The seal of biliteracy is super important,” he said. “It will help me get paid more because of my ability to communicate with multiple people.”

Reuel Dos Santos, also a senior, highlighted his and classmates’ improved writing skills. 

“The most valuable lesson is how to write an essay, [in] a four-paragraph style” Dos Santos said. “We used to only write one paragraph per class — like 200 words that would take us a week to write.”

Students said they will remember the program for its strong sense of community and culture. Dos Santos highlighted lessons integrating discussions of social justice in Brazil, assigned literature, and students’ personal testimonies.

Some students spoke movingly during Aula da Saudade about their experiences leaving Brazil. 

“Many had stories about fathers, families, about loved ones they left,” Dos Santos said. “You [could] see that many kids are crying. Everyone is feeling so open to tell each of their stories.”

His classmates come from all over Brazil, he said. “You have a Brazilian from each type of state. Their accents are way different from each other. It’s really cool to get experience from different cultures.”

Soares, who teaches five Portuguese classes at the high school, says that he has tried to provide a welcoming learning environment. 

“I came to be with this Brazilian community so they could have here an experience in this school as if they were in Brazil. Most of them don’t speak English. If they were only to go to English classes, they wouldn’t have the opportunity to get some skills in reading and writing.”

Soares is in the second year of a three-year contract with the high school. He said he doesn’t know yet whether his contract will be renewed.

Saudade, Soares said, is a difficult word to pinpoint in English. “It’s a mixture of longing and nostalgia … You can feel it for a friend, and a mother who passes away … if you ask, for us, [students] say ‘I feel saudade for my country.'”


  1. What a beautiful story! I certainly hope that Mr. Soares will continue to teach and inspire students at MVRHS into the future. What a wonderful teacher he is!!

  2. The kids love this class and come home talking about how the verbs are pronounced and how the students are open to learning and be a better person, with a lot of plans for adulthood to serve the island and the world 🌎

  3. Professor Soares has been an incredible addition to our faculty! I hope he can stay here and continue to serve in our World Language department. My daughter has had a life changing year in his class. He is a true gem of a teacher and we are so lucky to have him here on MV! Thank you, Daniel!

  4. Professor Soares, your dedication to teaching and passion for the Portuguese language have left an indelible mark on your students.

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