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By Ana Nuncio, Manager of Settlement Partnerships
The first round of Caribbean Connections as a summer enrichment program took place onsite at The Gables in the summer of 2012. Fifteen students, most of them newly arrived from the Dominican Republic, had been guided to our programming by the Salem public school district.
Our instructors were able to deliver instruction in both English and Spanish, so our curriculum served as a kind of “buffer and bridge” to introduce students to American schooling later that fall. At the beginning of the eight-week program, the students were a shy and silent group.
Students had no idea that the staff at The Gables, in partnership with the Essex National Heritage Commission, would help them explore the hidden connections between Salem’s maritime history and the Caribbean region, with special focus on the Dominican Republic, that summer.
Imagine their delight at being able to share the original name, Quisqueya, for the island that is now the Dominican Republic. Imagine their pride in learning that the first university in the New World, founded by Dominican monks in 1518, was the Universidad Santo Tomás de Aquino (or University of Saint Thomas Aquinas) in present-day Santo Domingo.
In the weeks that followed, conversation in our classroom was always lively and intense, as students expressed their ideas in rapid-fire Spanish. Instructors made sure that a rich strand of English vocabulary was added with each lesson, guiding students to record new English words and expressions in their bilingual notebooks.
As a final project, students created a striking map of the Transatlantic World from 1492 through the early 1600s, when Salem was founded. The map was a riotous display of colors and languages, with arrows marking the famous (and infamous) trade routes that had pulled continents together over a span of three centuries.
On the final day, one of the teachers suggested that a title was needed for this map, something to pull together this exuberant display of student learning. After a moment of careful consideration, Edison Tavarez (now a proud Salem High student) thoughtfully declared: “Los productos se acaban, pero las personas no.” — “Products come and go, but the people continue.”
This map, now a little worn over four summers of teaching, is still used to inspire new generations of students who enroll in Caribbean Connections. This simple but profound statement still lingers in the minds of our teachers. One can still hear Edison’s voice carrying forward the Caribbean story, contributing to the rich narrative of The House of the Seven Gables.
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