Translating school traditions

Film: Teens highlight aspects of student life that are difficult for their immigrant parents to understand.

February 14, 2005|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

For the past five years, Dianna Ford has looked for ways to communicate with parents of Patterson High School's growing immigrant Latino student population.

The guidance department head hired a Spanish-speaking intern away from a community center; bought electronic headsets so parents who did not understand English could listen to PTA meetings through an interpreter; and established a Latino parents group.

Last spring, the school - where 8 percent of students are "English language learners" - became even more creative in its outreach efforts. With the help of the Megaphone Project, a local nonprofit group that makes films about social and economic issues, a group of students made a film for Spanish-speaking immigrant parents.

The 13-minute movie, subtitled in English, sheds light on certain aspects of the U.S. education system difficult for some non-natives to understand, such as the prom, community service and extracurricular activities.

"In our country, we don't have that tradition, the prom," said Rosalia Rojas, a senior who worked on the film, titled Saber es Crecer ("Knowing is Growing").

Rojas, 18, who emigrated from Mexico, had trouble persuading her parents to help her pay for the prom. In the film, she plays a student who explains the significance of the formal dance to a friend who has just been invited to the prom.

"It's a huge tradition here in the U.S.," Rojas' character says. "At prom, you get to wear a formal dress, and you get to go to a formal dinner with your boyfriend and friends. ... The only thing is you have to pay your dues before you go."

The film, written by the students and filled with humorous moments, reveals parental attitudes that immigrant students face. There's a father who reports his daughter missing because she has not come straight home from school. (It turns out she was volunteering at a community center.)

There's also a mother who scolds her daughter for languishing on the sofa at home. "Imagine all that your father and I have suffered to come to this country so that you could take advantage of these opportunities before you," the mother says, urging the teenager to look into the school's clubs, sports and ROTC program.

The students said the movie also was a way to encourage undocumented immigrant students not to shrink from participating in school activities because of their legal status. School officials cannot require students to reveal their status.

"That's why we made the video: so students know they can do whatever they like," said Adriana Fuentes, 18, a native of Bolivia.

Blanca Picazo, a bilingual case worker at the St. Michael Outreach Center in Southeast Baltimore, which distributes copies of the video, said there's a need for such films.

"Many times, parents are so confused as to what is going on in the school," Picazo said. "Sometimes, they just withdraw [from becoming involved] because they don't understand."

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