With an anonymous $25,000 donation, Brockton High School converted an old computer lab into a bilingual access center to provide a space for students to learn English, have support in their native language for their classes and gain computer skills.
BROCKTON — With an anonymous $25,000 donation, an old computer lab at Brockton High School has been converted into a technological space to help students learn English and gain computer skills needed to graduate.
The new bilingual access center was unveiled at the start of this school year, with an official dedication ceremony Thursday in honor of one of the people whose actions in the district made it happen: Jose Pinhiero, who served as the director of bilingual education at Brockton High School from 2001 until his retirement in 2014.
“I don’t know who proposed this, but that person is in my heart,” he told the crowd that gathered in his honor in the space Thursday.
The goal of the bilingual access center is to help students whose first language is not English, said Kellie Jones, who has taken over as the director of bilingual education. The center not only allows students to work on learning the English language to successfully exit the English Language Learning program, but also provdes help in their native languages for their classes and teaches computer skills for testing requirements, such as MCAS.
“To receive a diploma, you now need to pass an exam on the computer,” Jones said. “… To exit (the English Language Learning program), they have to demonstrate proficiency on a program called ACCESS, also on a computer.”
The support the new space will provide, which will be staffed with licensed bilingual and ESL teachers, is important for the students who are already behind in terms of language skills, Pinhiero said. It will also help students who may be behind in their formal education in general, he said.
“Besides learning the (English) language, they have to catch up with other students in subjects, so the support is fundamental for them,” he said.
The space can be used by students during the school day, where they’ll be assigned to the space for help four out of the six periods of the day, and by teachers to sign out the space to work with students, Jones said. It will also be available for homework help after school, meetings with new students to the program and in meeting with parents whose native language also isn’t English.
“We call this room the bilingual access center because all students deserve equal access to a high-quality education,” she told the crowd Thursday. “In 2019, that high-quality education includes access to language, content and technology.”
According to state Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education statistics from 2018, about 24 percent of students in Brockton are learning English for the first time.
There are close to 1,000 English learners in the high school, Jones said, which makes up about a quarter of the 4,271 English language learners throughout the entire district. Most of those students – 54 percent – are Cape Verdean, she said, followed by Haitian, Spanish and Portuguese. Jones said 33 languages are spoken by students in Brockton schools.
The anonymous donation started with a phone call in December 2017, Jones said, from someone inquiring about the district’s greatest needs. At the time, Brockton schools were experiencing a budget deficit with funding being slashed, she said, and she brought up the need for technology since students need to pass an exam on the computer in order to graduate.
Interim Superintendent Mike Thomas then received an email from someone in California the following year, notifying him of an anonymous $25,000 donation funneled through the Silicon Valley Community Foundation specifically earmarked for technology for bilingual students in Brockton.
The grant, accompanied with other resources from the Brockton community, funded new laptops, desktop computers, tables, wireless displays, chairs and learning software for the space, Jones said.
During the dedication ceremony Thursday, Jones recited what she said was Pinheiro’s favorite quote from the 1974 Supreme Court Case, Lau versus Nichols: “‘There is no equality of treatment merely by providing students with the same facilities, textbooks, teachers and curriculum … for students who do not understand English are effectively foreclosed from any meaningful education.”
In addition to his work with bilingual students, Pinheiro was also the first bilingual computer science teacher at the high school and helped launch one of the first computer science high school programs in the state, and maybe even the country, around 1986.
Pinhiero said the dedication to him means he made a difference during his time in Brockton.
“I retired five years ago and they remember me because I did something good,” he said.
Staff writer Corlyn Voorhees can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org