The On the Street series looks at the past, present, and future of neighborhoods in Greater Boston.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton took the stage at Framingham High School and looked out onto the audience of more than 2,000 students and teachers. He was there to celebrate the school system’s achievements, its “academic excellence.” And he zeroed in on its diversity.
“It’s a school that really looks like America,” Clinton said.
Today, the Framingham Public Schools remain as multicultural as ever — about 30 percent of the students are learning English, and students speak 70 languages at home. Now, there are efforts underway to make all of the city’s 14 K-12 schools — and staff — more inclusive and multilingual.
The public schools already play an outsized role in integrating newcomers to Framingham. Its wrap-around support team helps parents register children, get them vaccinated, and connect with medical and dental care, said Tiago Gadens, assistant director of human resources for the school system. But he admits that it still has a long way to go to better reflect the cross-section of students.
”One of the interesting things about Framingham is the political scenario in Brazil plays a role here,” he said, meaning that the political and financial stability of the country has a direct impact on whether people come or go. Given Brazil’s recent political unrest, they’ve been coming. “In the past year working at the district, our lobby’s been full of kids that just arrived,” Gadens said.
The district is planning to build a welcome center for families and hopes to begin offering universal Pre-K, but Gadens says meeting the learning needs of those students will continue to be a challenge. One of the biggest needs is for more schools on its south side, he said, to better serve everyone in the region.
There have been some forward strides. The district had already developed dual language Spanish and Portuguese programming for elementary schoolers, but middle and high school classes were largely taught in English. This year, it received a $1.7 million grant to launch the Framingham Teacher Residency AmeriCorps Program, a pipeline for bilingual would-be teachers to obtain licenses to teach in middle and high school classrooms. Ten teachers are now enrolled, working in the schools while taking classes at Framingham State University.
It’s a move to help make the schools better reflect and draw from the people living in the city, said Everton Vargas da Costa, the district’s coordinator of talent acquisition, learning, and growth, who oversaw the program’s launch. “This is a challenge but it’s also one of our biggest strengths as a community,” he said.
Other local advocacy organizations are also helping to build that teacher pipeline.
ProGente Connections, a local nonprofit which offers assistance and ESL programs to Brazilian immigrants, recently launched a teacher training course, coaching people who were certified educators in Brazil to achieve teaching certification in Massachusetts. The goal, says Raquel Riberti-Bill, executive director of the volunteer-run organization, is to bring more Brazilian educators into the Framingham school system, making the staff more culturally representative, while also helping people find middle-class jobs in the city where they live.
Too often, she said, new arrivals cast aside their professional careers due to language barriers or certification challenges and take low-wage service-industry jobs to get a foothold in the US. She said the program’s aim is to have teachers “actually work in the field [that they trained in] and be proud of what they are and all the time that they put in to do their career right.” Since starting the program in 2020, 35 participants have taken part, and three are now working in Framingham’s schools.
Riberti-Bill said it’s been remarkable to watch people find renewed joy in their careers. But it also “goes beyond that,” she said. “It’s self esteem, it’s been improving salaries for them, and also feeling part of the community.”
Read more about Framingham and explore the full On the Street series.
Janelle Nanos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.