Written by Rich Forestano Friday, 17 August 2012 00:00
With the help of 7th Senate District Senator Jack Martins, MHS will offer Portuguese to incoming eighth-grade students starting with the 2012-13 school year. Martins attained a waiver from the state education department (SED) to grant the high school permission to offer the class. The program will grow to ninth-through 12th grades over the next five years.
Prior to getting state approval, Portuguese was not a state-recognized language by the SED. The SED did not return calls for comment.
“Portuguese language learning and teaching has been part of Mineola for 30-plus years,” Martins said. “Depending on where you look, Portuguese is either the fifth or sixth most spoken language in the world…It became important that we look for ways of incorporating Portuguese language learning into our public schools as well.”
MHS will become the first public school in New York State to offer Portuguese as a class. After conferring with Mineola School District Superintendent Michael Nagler, high school principal Ed Escobar and history teacher and MHS alum Paul Pereira, working to add the language was a no-brainer.
“We discussed the possibility of introducing the language,” Martins said. “We took the challenge to get it approved by the state. I had an opportunity to speak to Roger Tilles about getting SED cooperation.”
According to Pereira, one in six MHS graduates are of Portuguese decent, while nine countries speak Portuguese as its official language and 34 countries list the language as “significantly spoken.” Students will be notified prior to the start of the school year that the language is available, should they want to enroll in the class.
Foreign language teacher Elsa Coelho, a MHS alum, will teach the 25-student class. There are 190 eighth-grade students enrolled at MHS.
Coelho, who teaches Spanish and French, contacted various directors in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Jersey over the last few weeks concerning texts that are implemented in those schools to get an idea of where to start with instruction. She has been a teacher for 15 years.
“I’m excited about it,” Coelho said. “I remember hearing ‘why can’t we take Portuguese or why don’t’ we offer it.’ This is wonderful that this is happening. I’m excited to be teaching it.”
This is not the first time the Portuguese language was on the table in Mineola Schools. Pereira and Martins were at the forefront of getting the language in the course listings for almost two decades.
The two were part of a mentorship program under then-district superintendent Harry Jaroslaw, to help Portuguese-American students, with the goal of aspiring for higher education. There have been four cultural exchanges between the school district and a secondary school in Ovar, Portugal.
“[Jack] has done most of the heavy lifting over the last year,” Pereira stated. “In the mid-1990s we served on the site-based management team to focus on improving the entire school community and at that time I was in charge of the Portuguese club at the high school to foster understanding of the culture. Did we try to get this going 10, 15 years ago? Yes. Perhaps it wasn’t the right time or we didn’t have the right people in place but today, we do.”
Principal Escobar feels that adding the language to the curriculum only benefits the already bustling foreign language program the school offers and the hard work by all involved came to fruition just in time for the school year. “Having worked in other schools, what makes Mineola special is the students,” Escobar said. “There’s a large population of Portuguese that are here. It adds to the flavor of Mineola High School.”