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At White Plains High School, the current student population is approximately forty percent Latino and Latin American; this demographic population represents those students who were born and raised in the United States or born in Latin America but raised predominately in the US where as Latin Americans are students who have been living in the United States recently to four years. These distinctive demographics are continually increasing every year. In order to address this reality, current curricula need to be examined and revised. Although there is a common language that unites the two, all Latino and Latin American cultures should be recognized with a distinct identity. Each Latin American country has its own distinguishable ethos; it is not simply a romance language. Among Latino students, literacy and comprehension skills will increase by implementing a curriculum with which they can identify with and from which they can benefit. Specifically, Latino and Latin American literature are two genres that encompass many possibilities for everyone involved. Latino Literature consists of authors, artists who have been predominately raised (or born) in the United States with a Latin American heritage. These authors are situated in many parts of the US mainland that embrace unique ethnicities. In contrast, Latin American writers are artists who have been raised in their native land. This covers a vast territory from México, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. As a result, Latin American writers have been subjected to their own geographical and topographical differences and most importantly, their country’s history.
In the summer of 2001, I was a National Endowment for Humanities Fellow at the University of Texas/San Antonio. It was here where I discovered who I am, how I identify myself. I am a Colombian-New Yorker. What was amazing to me was that it took twenty-six years for me to discover who I truly was and what cultures identified me. This was beyond doubt an epiphany for me. I felt pride to know who I was, which in turn energized me to teach my students and try to effectively give them that same opportunity of fulfillment. However, I knew that it would take courage and my vulnerability to take the first step of self-discovery and self-identity. This is how Proyecto BBRAVO was born.
This program is multi-faceted, as it provides not only self-discovery, but also the opportunity for Latino students to bridge the achievement gap. Proyecto BBRAVO is an acronym in Spanish that means Bilingües/Biculturales, Respaldando, Ascendiendo hacia Virtudes y Oportunidades. The program has as its foundation an initial curriculum component. The Spanish as a Living Language of Our Latino Cultures (LL) and Spanish Language Arts (SLA) courses incorporate Latin American Literature, Latino Literature, Spanish grammar and Spanish orthography. It is within the literature component that the process of self-discovery and self-identity begins. This is where the teacher must speak about her/his own connection, her/his own passion for life in order to serve as an example for students as they begin the process of self-discovery.
The second component is the graduate apprenticeship. In this component, the students who have taken the foundation courses are now in upper level Spanish classes and are eligible to participate. They continue their involvement in the program by becoming a graduate apprentice and aide or tutor in beginning Spanish classes, as well as assisting Spanish teachers with any need that they may have. With this experience, they earn community service hours towards graduation.
The third component is the academic symposium. This experience is an integral part of the Spanish Living Language curriculum, where second year LL students are responsible for designing, planning and implementing a symposium that relates to their curriculum. For example, author Roberto Quesada has been invited to speak to students in the Spanish Language Arts classes in a forum completely organized by the Living Language students. LL students familiarize and prepare themselves by reading two of Quesada’s novels, Nunca entres por Miami and Milenio; the former is read in the summer prior to the school year beginning. The symposium has focused on such themes as recreating the ending of Quesada’s novel Nunca entres por Miami, to the history of Quesada’s evolution as an author and his role as Honduran First Secretary to the United Nations, and to US policies in Third World countries in Central America and South America.
In addition, motivational speakers have been invited such as Westchester County Legislator, José Alvarado and prominent Latina lawyer, Julissa Reynoso. Alvarado has motivated the students by telling his story of having only a sixth grade education in Honduras to earning a GED, Bachelor’s and Master’s to present day Legislator. As for Reynoso, she has spoken about world politics and the influences Latinos have in today’s society. Her point of view is particularly intriguing and fascinating because she was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in the South Bronx from the age of eight. She was educated at Aquinas High School (NYC), Harvard University (Bachelor’s), Cambridge University (UK, Master’s in International Economics) and Columbia University (Jurisprudence).
The final component, the Field Experience, involves a real world working experience at venues such as el Museo del barrio, Edelman Company, Latino Media Ventures, Permanent Mission of Honduras to the United Nations, General Consulate of the Dominican Republic, Silverman, Bikkal & Sandberg, LLC and Mayor Michael Bloomberg Community Affairs Unit NYC. Almost all sites are in Manhattan, New York. The Field Experience has two parts: the Academic and Field Experiences; there is a five-step process that must be completed in order to earn one high school credit. If Spanish Language Arts Students and/or Living Language Students are interested, they must begin by writing an essay in Spanish stating their interest and why they would want to participate at their interested site.
Once completed, they are invited to an interview in front of a panel comprised of the assistant Principal, Coordinator of WorLD Languages, Guidance Counselor, representatives from each site and the Director/Advisor of Proyecto BBRAVO. When the candidates (seven in 2008) accept the position, they must fulfill a minimum of 200 hours at the site, write a research paper, keep a journal in Spanish and give a final experience presentation in front of an audience at the school and local television station in September. Finally, there is an exit interview with the assistant Principal, the Coordinator of WorLD, representatives of the site they worked and the Program Director.
These four components of Proyecto BBRAVO have been designed to bridge the achievement gap with Latino Americans. Proyecto BBRAVO provides them a sense of ownership in the high school curriculum and pride for who they are and what they can become in today’s society. Moreover, the Program has been devised to develop certain traits in the participants. Professionalism is the most important trait and is vital in keeping this program growing and thriving in a positive direction. The experiences that the students will encounter at their specific site are best when the supervisors and the students carry out fully their respective responsibilities.
In addition, the students are expected to demonstrate the ability to advocate for themselves, be open to learning experiences and execute any task that is given to them. The goal is for the participants to experience a creative, caring and learning environment and to discover the limitless possibilities that they as members of the Latino and Latin American cultures have to offer to our society.
We, as educators, have an obligation to provide opportunities for bilingual/bicultural students that can build on very unique talents that they have and put these talents into practice. The hope for this program is to be a model of ways of creating meaningful and significant opportunities for Latino students. This program only represents a first step to meet that aspiration upon which can be continued in the future.