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To teach Latino history, Luperón High School turns to El Diario

Saulio Tuero learned to read his parents’ native language by reading El Diario, the country’s longest-running Spanish daily newspaper.

“I would buy El Diario for my father, and I’d buy myself an English-speaking one, and then we’d switch,” he said. “That’s the way I learned to read Spanish.”

Now, Tuero teaches at Gregorio Luperón High School for Science and Mathematics, a school created to serve recent immigrants from Latin America. In his government class last year, he piloted a bilingual curriculum created through a partnership between City College and El Diario. The curriculum, called “Social Justice & Latinos in NYC: 1913-2013” uses El Diario articles from the last century (the newspaper turns 100 this year), along with other resources, to teach students about the history of Latinos in the city.

That’s something Xiomara Pérez says she didn’t learn when she attended public school in Queens. Her parents immigrated from Puerto Rico, and she said she only learned about their history — in Puerto Rico and New York — at home. Now a graduate student at City College, Pérez helped develop the curriculum as part of a course on multicultural education in the college’s Department of Teaching, Learning, and Culture.

El Diario and City College formally announced the curriculum, which is now available online, at a press conference at Gregorio Luperón last week. The curriculum is designed for grades 6-12 and includes texts in both English and Spanish. As a final project, students create a multilingual, multimedia newspaper of their own.

Taking on such in-depth projects can seem burdensome when schools must balance many different pressures. Tatyana Kleyn, who taught the course in which the curriculum was developed, said teachers facing a time crunch could pick and choose from lessons in the middle on topics such as housing, bilingual education, immigration, and health care.

“We know schools are tight with testing, that testing rules, but to ignore where students come from is really a crime,” Kleyn said.

El Diario editor Erica Gonzalez said the process of developing the curriculum had been “detailed, tense, tedious at times, but very exciting throughout.”

Lúperon Principal Juan Villar said the curriculum is one of several ways the school tries to teach students about the history of the countries where they were born, and the history of Latinos in the communities where they now live. He said his school was the natural choice to pilot the program because of its population and the role El Diario articles about overcrowding played in helping the school secure a new space in Washington Heights in 2008.

As they revised the curriculum, Kleyn and her students observed ESL teacher Jakob Clausen’s classes to see what was working and what wasn’t. Kleyn said that after seeing what actually fit into one class period, she and her students cut some of the material “to ensure there was time for in-depth learning.”

Now that the curriculum has been released, Villar said he hoped the Department of Education would consider implementing it more broadly across the city. He says he hopes that in addition to teaching students more about Latino history, the curriculum will encourage them to read the newspaper, as their teacher did when he was in school, and to talk about it.

“Buy the newspaper and read it. Bring it to your parents, your friends. And use it as a mechanism to open lines of communication with [them],” he said in Spanish to the students gathered at the event.

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