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O N C OURSE Left: Chris Benítez and Steve García, Movement City liaisons, shoot the interview with Mayor Lantigua, conducted by Wong. Middle: Wise, Azaret, Sturman, and Wong interview Mayor Lantigua.

Spanish 510 and 511

Bottom: Dempsey and Callahan interview immigration lawyer Zoila Gómez, a Dominican-born immigrant with a law practice on the Campagnone Common in Lawrence.

Hablamos Comunidad! The lights dimmed and a documentary called We Are Lawrence began—a 20-minute rough cut, admittedly, expressing flashes of pride, affection, and a fierce loyalty to the city. When it ended, an emotionally charged silence settled on the room. The question and answer session that followed elicited poignant, searching queries and personal stories—a Muslim teen describing his “sweet” acceptance as a newcomer, the Cambodian girl sitting beside him in tears. This was a city overwhelmingly described by pejoratives. Seeing and hearing the warmth, the rich cultural mix, the influence of different faith traditions, the strong sense of community were powerful transcenders of near-universal perceptions of their city. Among many other things, this event also was the final of Andover’s Spanish 511 course. Spanish 511, its teacher will readily tell you, is not really a course at all. “It’s a movement,” says Mark Cutler, the 36-year-old instructor who has developed an enterprising new model for communitybased learning. Only about 20 of the most advanced students of the Spanish language may enroll. And once they do, they become activists on a mission for three terms. In the first two colloquia, current issues such as immigration policy, xenophobia, and classism are explored and debated—exclusively in Spanish. The third term throws the students literally onto the streets. But what Cutler is up to requires some background. His mission for this third term is to engage with a senior English course taught by the poet César Sánchez Beras at LHS in remaking the image of the immigrant city of Lawrence—the struggling mill town on Andover’s northern border—by together planning and producing a film that reflects a more balanced view of the much-maligned city. The idea merged with the anger fueled by Boston Magazine’s decidedly one-sided coverage of Lawrence earlier in the year. It depicted a “god-forsaken city of the damned” where poverty, violence, and crime ruled among its largely immigrant population. Spurred by that piece, a new movement called “We Are Lawrence” has marshaled forces to give a fairer hearing of the many positives in the community. Enter Cutler and his deep social consciousness, born of an indelible youthful exposure to struggles on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and church mission trips to rural poverty areas long ago. Many years later, as a teacher in a privileged environment, Cutler is building on the model developed by Margarita Curtis, a PA instructor in Spanish in the 1990s, who combined education and literacy by engaging her classes in mentoring and tutoring fifth-graders in Lawrence charter schools. But Cutler has gone beyond that model to embrace the ideas of John Dewey that students such as Andover’s need an injection of disequilibrium to throw them off balance and force them to look hard at and possibly realign their values. And so he has. Initial meetings between the two classes on both campuses found them at Lawrence High, in Paresky Commons sharing Dominican food and their own poetry and songs, then in the Addison Gallery’s Museum Learning Center, breaking down


Andover | Fall 2012

Photos by Gil Talbot

Last spring on one of the last days of the school year in a small auditorium at Lawrence High School (LHS), nearly 100 students and teachers gathered for something of a film premiere. A diverse group, most were residents of Lawrence. The film’s cast was their neighbors, parents, friends, and fellow townspeople. The film’s crew also was present—roughly 20 LHS seniors and an equal number of Phillips Academy Spanish students.

stereotypes, stretching comfort levels, making plans. Then they explored the streets of Lawrence to observe and meet residents who might become interview subjects. Guided by two young adult Lawrence natives with documentary film experience—Chris Benitez and Steve Garcia from an inner-city youth organization called Movement City—the students envisioned their documentary. It was late March when they hit the streets armed with cameras, questions, and an informed curiosity. They shot for four days over the next month, capturing the beauty and the beasts of Lawrence, conducting interviews with a wide variety of residents, from attorneys to blue-collar workers to teachers and shopkeepers to people on the street. Even the highly controversial mayor got a workout. The students worked with impressive fluency and an active empathy. They collaborated beautifully. Their excitement was obvious. They were seeing another Lawrence and were eager to capture it. And their enthusiasm for the class and its concept was unmistakable. Cutler has clearly made a good start in his dual efforts to increase Spanish fluency and disturb the cultural equilibrium of his students. One mentioned the infamous “Andover bubble” and the fact that he sees “too many students at the Academy who are simply unaware of what goes on outside of campus.” Jonathan Chacon ’14 continued: “This must cease if we wish to comply with our motto, non sibi.” His antidote is more courses in the Spanish 511 model. For Colton Dempsey ’12, Cutler’s course was a different kind of eye-opener: “Every piece of work I do for it has more significance and weight than any other type of homework assignment I have ever done. The public nature of this class forces all of us to carry a sense of responsibility with each of our interviews, reflections, interactions with the people of Lawrence, and even how we carry ourselves.” Ceylon Auguste-Nelson ’12 says the course revolutionized her thinking about service. “Although we are just one of a few classes to be engaged in Lawrence in this way, it is an important start to our community stepping away from generalizing and stereotyping, and the patronizing mentalities that often arise in community service.”

Top: Spanish 511 instructor Mark Cutler, affectionately known to his students as Cuchillero (a direct translation of his last name) or “Don Marco.” Above: The Spanish 511 class, from left: Michelle Hantman ’12, Scott Livingston ’13, Tailor Dortona ’12, Miguel Wise ’14, Jonathan Chacón ’14, Jessica Lee ’13, Shannon Callahan ’12, Ceylon Auguste-Nelson ’12, Lydia Azaret ’12, Colton Dempsey ’12, Zach Sturman ’12, Brandon Wong ’12, and Drew D'Alelio ’12. Right: Sturman recounts the interview with Lawrence mayor William Lantigua to fellow student Livingston.

Astute and thoughtful as these students were, they will have to leave We Are Lawrence in the hands of a new group of Andover peers. By summer’s end, the project was on hold, the community organization in Lawrence dealing with staff and budget changes. Culter has begun a fresh three-term exploration of the troubled city with new students that hopefully will result in a polished video that can be shared publicly. But he feels much has been accomplished. “I think we took our students beyond Andover—beyond community service—and gave them a much fuller picture of the complexity of these issues. It’s not just about poverty and a desire to save Lawrence. It’s about community partnerships.” He was gratified by the close peer relationships that developed between students of the two schools and their mutual appreciation for each other. He also saw their language skills much improved, as they had to “negotiate language in unpredictable ways to engage community members.” Looking ahead, Cutler is exploring new ways to develop and capture stories of Lawrence through his classes—podcasts, an NPR StoryCorps type of program, maybe reviving the Urban Studies Institute that can initiate research and new strategies for partnerships. He is constantly analyzing, thinking, planning—inspired by the success of his experiment to keep his students thinking bigger. And better. —Sally V. Holm S ee and H ear the trailer for the We Are Lawrence documentary at Andover | Fall 2012


On Course: Fall 2012  

On Course: Fall 2012

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