From Northeastern Brazil To U.S. Classrooms

Issue Date: 
October 2, 2006


Western Pennsylvanian teachers developing lessons based on research during University-funded trip

One of Kathy Talipan’s more vivid memories of her Pitt-funded trip to Brazil last summer is of the time she and several fellow teachers took a group of orphans to a mall in the town of Recife, where they dined and played video games. “It was such a fulfilling experience to be able to give to kids who have so little,” says Talipan, a middle school Spanish teacher in the Bethel Park School District.

Susan Smith, a reading and math curriculum coach in Phillips Elementary School who formerly taught Spanish, recalls watching members of the nongovernmental organization Pro-Crianca teaching Brazilian students the Maracatu, a traditional dance of African origin. “Some students drummed the beat, some danced with enthusiasm, and a few others represented an African king and queen with their court,” Smith says.
Talipan and Smith were among the dozen K-12 teachers from Western Pennsylvania who participated in a teacher-training program in Brazil last summer, thanks to Pitt’s Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS).

The program was funded by a $82,000 grant to CLAS from the U.S. Department of Education’s Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad program. The trip was a major component of the CLAS outreach project called “Northeastern Brazil: People, Culture, and History.” CLAS, one of 18 National Research Centers on Latin America as designated by the U.S. Department of Education, conducted the project to research and collect materials to be used in the design of interdisciplinary lessons and activities. These lessons will eventually be integrated into U.S. middle and high school world language and social studies classrooms.

Prior to departing for the Brazilian states of Pernambuco and Bahia, participating teachers attended a Pitt-sponsored seminar during which they were introduced to Brazilian Portuguese and cultural aspects of Northeastern Brazil. Also during the seminar, a curriculum design specialist guided teachers in selecting research projects to pursue during their trip. Project topics, which will be incorporated into lesson plans, ranged from fútbol to the history of slavery to current living conditions of African Brazilians.

After arriving in Olinda, Pernambuco, the teachers continued to study Brazilian Portuguese and practiced the language in marketplaces, restaurants, and public libraries. Visits to private and public schools gave the teachers opportunities to meet with people who play vital roles in education in Northern Brazil, including Mozart Neves Ramos, the Secretary of Education for the state of Pernambuco, and Thereza Maria Paes Barreto dos Santos, administrator of Ginasio Pernambucano, a model school.

Now that the teachers have settled into a new school year, they are beginning to design lessons based on their Brazilian research. These lessons will enrich existing secondary school courses and will be distributed nationally through CLAS’ Web site and outreach program.