“I’m a product of bilingual education in the classrooms, when I was growing up,” says John “Chance” Acevedo, who is studying bilingual childhood education at BMCC.
His choice of a major, he says, took several things into consideration. “Am I ready to take 12 Spanish credits? Am I ready to teach in my native tongue?” Equally important, was he ready to work closely with children’s families? The answers were all a resounding “yes.”
“A lot of parents,” says Acevedo, “because they are first generation immigrants to the United States, want to feel comfortable that they’re getting the best service for their children.”
Parents who don’t speak the classroom language, he explains, can’t help with homework, or communicate with their child’s teacher. “And to have the child translate for them,” he explains, “causes more of a struggle and more stress on the parents.”
The bilingual educator is aware of these circumstances, and creates a learning environment that addresses them in a positive way.
The learning curve, at work
Acevedo currently works at East Brooklyn Congregation (EBC) High School for Public Service, in Bushwick, Brooklyn, as a paraprofessional, and applies some of the pedagogy he’s learning in his education classes at BMCC.
“The things I’ve learned with Professor [Yolanda] Medina, Professor [Jean Yves] Plaisir, and others, have been helpful in the classroom,” he says.
“One teacher that I assist may have a different teaching style, and may not be able to get to a child. The professors always say, there’s more than one way to teach a child; you have to find what works best for that child. All children are not visual. All children aren’t auditory. I say to myself, let’s see how it would help if I add what I’ve learned in class, to the class I’m assisting with. ”
Poetic license to educate youth
In addition to working and attending classes at BMCC, Acevedo leads the poetry collective, El Grito de Poetas, which recently won the Commissioner’s Distinguished Award for 2009, from the New York State Department of Health.
“Statistics show there are more youth being diagnosed with HIV and AIDS every day,” says Acevedo. “Some of the students I sit with in class, or some of the kids I work with, they may have been born with it, and not sure what’s going on.”
The award, says Acevedo, “gives the group a license, to speak, to go out and educate people so no one can ever say ‘Oh, well I never knew about it.’”
“We try to educate through entertainment,” he explains. “So we do a lot of spoken word and poetry. Whether it’s talking about the everyday struggles of kids, or the neighborhoods and streets we live in, if you listen closely, there’s always an educational component.”
El Grito de Poetas has facilitated writing and performance workshops at high schools, junior high schools, churches, correctional facilities, women’s shelters, and homeless shelters.
“A lot of times someone will come up to me and say ‘Thank you, that poem stopped me from thinking a certain way about certain things’,” says Acevedo.
“I’ve done poems for educators, and the educators will say, ‘We understand that our kids are going through a lot, but we just know textbook information; we know what we’re giving them, but we don’t know what they’re coming to school with. We don’t know about their struggles outside of the classroom.’”
Pen and paper—a child’s best friend
It was Acevedo’s own struggles that brought him to poetry, and helped him realize the important role educators fill, in children’s lives.
“When I started writing I wrote because I needed to heal. When I was in elementary school, my mother was abused, so I’m considered a domestic violence survivor. In 2003, I was asked to speak before 4,000 people about domestic violence, so I went up and did a poem about my mother’s struggles. When I was in school, my bilingual teacher knew something was wrong. She would ask, 'Is everything okay? Is everything alright at home?' My best friend became a pen and paper. It’s cliché, but I wrote everything down.”
“Now I’m a storyteller. I write stories about the kids I work with, I write poems about the situations I’ve been through, letting the youth who I want to educate know, there’s someone who’s been through the same thing you’ve been through, who’s here to help you.”