Plymouth-Canton teachers help blaze a path for foreign-born students

Hagda do Patrocinio-Volpe and Julie Barr 

(Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles profiling recipients of the 2013 MEA Human Rights and Excellence awards.)

Julie Barr and Hagda do Patrocinio-Volpe know first-hand what it’s like to live in a foreign country and not know the language or the culture. Barr lived in Israel for several years and Patrocinio was born in Brazil and came to the United States as an adult.

With their patience and spirit, these two teachers at Salem High School in Plymouth-Canton Community Schools have created a safe learning environment, so English language learners can be successful.

And that’s why MEA has honored them with MEA’s Excellence Award for Bilingual Education.

Salem High School’s P-CEP English Language Learners’ Program teaches students from around the world the academic English they need to be successful in high school and beyond.

Barr and Patrocinio’s program is unique in that their students are placed by levels based on their English skills. Students can earn their credits through the program and also become proficient enough to go on to earn their credits in regular academic classes.

Thanks to their efforts, the program has expanded over the past three years to include core academic classes designed for non-English speaking students. Barr and Patrocinio have also ensured that the classes they teach are in line with graduation requirements.

Their program reaches beyond their own classrooms; they have been instrumental in setting up “sheltered classes” for their students in other academic courses like social studies and science.

Their students are placed in these classes with regular teachers who have been trained to adjust their curriculum so students learning English can be successful. Barr and Patrocinio’s efforts ensure their students not only get an education, but are also connected to a total high school experience and can successfully move on to the next level of their education.

Barr and Patrocinio’s students are not the only ones learning new concepts. The two have taught their colleagues about the “benevolent conspiracy” that non-English students face. ELL students often graduate high school without the proper skills or knowledge base to move on to college or the workplace. Core teachers admit they give students passing grades because they’re so nice. And while those teachers may have the best of intentions, Barr and Patrocinio say this actually hampers students’ dreams of being future engineers or teachers.

Barr and Patrocinio have learned some lessons, too. School is different in countries like India, Pakistan, China, Africa and Albania — just some of the countries represented by their students.

For example, students in those nations aren’t used to taking tests that require filling in a bubble for answers.