A New Venture
A high school student from Haiti explains the meaning of vodou to a fellow classmate from China. Three Harvard undergraduates gather a group of eager kindergarteners to play a game in Spanish. Such scenes are becoming more common around Cambridge and the Boston area because of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies’ intensified outreach program.
With support from DRCLAS, undergraduates at Harvard organized SABES: Spanish Acquisition Beginning in Elementary School, to put into practice the concept that learning a second language should be a positive experience for children. Today, SABES oversees 26 volunteers at the Agassiz School in Cambridge, where they teach Spanish language to 60 kindergarten through eighth graders two afternoons a week, using games, videos and other fun activities. John Roderick, Agassiz assistant principal, wants this “wonderful program” to become a permanent part of the school, where Spanish is not usually introduced until the seventh grade.
DRCLAS Latin American and Latino/a Art Forum welcomed students from Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School (CRLS), located only one block away from the Center, to see “Heavens of the Imagination” a watercolor exhibit by Chilean artist Lydia Nakashima Degarrod, from March to June 15, 1999. Nakashima Degarrod, who is also an anthropologist, sat casually on a table, surrounded by her colorful paintings, and answered the barrage of questions from 30 bilingual and ESL students.
It wasn’t the first time the students brought their energy and curiosity to the DRCLAS art exhibits. Last November, Bilingual and English as a Second Language teacher Maggie Hug brought her class to the Center from CRLS. Her students, from places as varied as Quebec, Bolivia, Brazil, and Ethiopia, listened intently as Center staff members André Leroux and Joanna Angelides explained the Center’s goals and introduced them to the work of Haitian artist Marilene Phipps at her exhibit “Altars and Shrines of Haiti.”
Francesse Meronnis, an 11th grade student from Haiti wrote after the visit, “I really like the Rockefeller Center, and also I like the pictures because they make me proud of my country.” Another student wrote thanking the Center for “giving an important place to Latin America’s culture.”
The visits are an example of the Center’s new emphasis on working locally. DRCLAS, known for its academic conferences, lectures, and other intellectual events, has begun a concerted effort to directly serve the community. The Center has developed ties with journalists and business, but, according to director John Coatsworth, historically it has lacked a full-fledged outreach effort. DRCLAS is now working to build relationships with area public schools, colleges and universities, as well as community organizations. The outreach program will supplement the work that the Center has already done in supporting research, student groups, and faculty initiatives that have a direct effect on our understanding of Latin America and Latin Americans in the United States.
With the help of the Center, Latino students from the AHORA program at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School are participating in more events on campus. A group of AHORA students recently joined the course Latino Cultures, where performer, writer, and educator Josefina Baez presented her work, “Dominicanish: Language Acquisition with Soul,” and talked at length with the audience. This month, they will attend a performance of the New York-based theater group Universes, brought to Harvard by Fuerza Latina, a Latino student organization. Outreach is a way of joining forces: in this case, many Latino undergraduates, including members of Fuerza, tutor and mentor at AHORA.
DRCLAS is also collaborating with other area studies centers at Harvard to give teacher workshops, and with the Boston-based World Affairs Council, in organizing a seminar for area teachers on “Brazil: Beyond Soccer and Samba.” It is also exploring with state colleges and universities in Massachusetts how the Center might form alliances, particularly in the area of faculty professional development. The Center provides support and Center faculty regularly lecture for programs like Teachers as Scholars, based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, which offers in-depth academic seminars for area school teachers. This spring, Teachers as Scholars is also organizing a special seminar for Boston school superintendents on an issue central to the future of urban public schools, that of immigration, featuring a presentation by Harvard School of Education Professor of Human Development and Psychology Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco.
The interests of DRCLAS and the community overlap in many areas, including the Center’s research priorities in immigration, public health, and Latino Studies. Over the long term, the Center seeks to extend its many resources and talents in the area of Latin American Studies to a less traditional, but equally valuable group of citizens, teachers, activists, and community members.
Hilary Burger, DRCLAS outreach coordinator, recently completed her PhD in Latin American History at Harvard. Fluent in both Spanish and Portuguese, she has close ties to Cambridge’s Brazilian and Salvadoran communities and has a broad range of interests from Latino popular music to immigration rights. If you have suggestions about the way the Center can develop its outreach initiative, please contact her at (617) 495-5435, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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