the walls of Rome come tumbling down,
And her golden children lie bloodied in the streets,
The cause will not be the foreign armies camped at her
But her long forgotten children cast aside, the seeds.
São Paulo, and in fact most of the world, presents
a dichotomy in the human condition. The rich live in
a magical world where anything is possible, and the
poor live in a world where the only expectation is
more of the same. More and more these people, the poor
and the destitute, are becoming marginalized. This
paper is about a project whose aim it is to bring hope
and opportunity to a group of disadvantaged children
from São Paulo.
In the first
semester of 2002, União Cultural
Brasil Estados Unidos (hereafter referred to as UCBEU),
a bi-national center in São Paulo, started a
project called, União Faz Arte (Union Makes
Art). The project aimed to offer new experiences and
opportunities to children from disadvantaged communities.
Three afternoons a week these children could attend
classes in theatre, dance, information technology,
life skills, and English. This paper will focus on
the English component of the project.
Teaching English to these students presented a unique
challenge. The majority of students who study English
as a foreign language, come from a different social
and educational background from our learners. Most
would have been exposed to English. Most would come
from a culture that stressed the importance of learning
and of academic performance. Our students would come
from the opposite end of the social spectrum. Our students
would be children from communities wracked by poverty,
violence and drugs.
We were also presented with a unique opportunity.
We were free to work outside the box of conventional
classroom behavior and traditional performance related
goals. Our students were not studying English because
their parents said they had to, or because they would
one day travel to the USA. Our students had hopes
and dreams, but fragile hopes and dreams bred in
their violent world. Our goal was to teach our students
English. We had to make English fun. Our goal was
to keep them coming back to our lessons because the
experience of learning itself was liberating. In
addition, we wanted to present them with a model
of education based on respect, responsibility and
Our goals for the project were defined as follows:
provide a safe and secure learning environment
for our students.
• To present English as a foreign language to our students.
• To facilitate our students' acquisition of English
as a foreign language in an effective and entertaining
• To motivate our students to 'want' to learn to speak
• To cultivate an atmosphere of inclusion and encouragement
in the classroom.
teaching philosophy was based on the theory of social
learning. In social learning, changes in thought
or behavior are brought about through observation and
interaction with one’s social environment (McCown
et al, 1996). Our objective was, therefore, to create
an environment in which the learners interacted as
much as possible with each other, their teachers, and
the environment. We created lesson plans incorporating
cooperative learning strategies. We played games. We
created posters in groups using English in a real and
meaningful context. Learning was an active process,
which was negotiated by each learner in the group situation.
The task of the teacher was to guide and facilitate
we would act as role models for these learners. It
was therefore important that every teacher
displayed the characteristics and behavior that we
were trying to promote. Our classes became models of
respect, responsibility and social inclusion. From
the first lesson the learners were expected to play
an active role in the teaching-learning situation.
On the first day the teachers and the learners sat
down and drew up a classroom policy together. This
policy addressed the classroom rules and regulations,
classroom procedures, and accepted behavior. The policy
document that was drawn up was signed by both the teachers
and the learners. It ended with a statement of commitment,
a commitment to respect each other, and to be responsible
for one’s own behavior.