LAWRENCE — Some students learn a foreign language in high school only to forget it later. For the Phillips Academy students gathered in the back of El Taller cafe in Lawrence yesterday, that doesn’t seem likely.
Phillips Academy Spanish teacher Mark Cutler, who spent part of his childhood on a Lakota Sioux Reservation, is passionate about cross-cultural education. To him, a world language department should have bigger goals than proficiency, which is why he spent five months working with his students and Lawrence High students to create a video project titled “Nosotros, el pueblo” or “We, the People.” The documentary-style piece features interviews with Lawrencians of varying socioeconomic backgrounds, speaking both English and Spanish, talking about the city’s past, present and future.
“(Spanish) is a vehicle through which (the students) can explore other things. It’s a tool that is used, in this case, to better understand the world around them,” Cutler said. “It’s a Spanish class, but it becomes focused on something other than that.”
That something is allowing Lawrence to “recapture the narrative,” as Cutler put it. The project’s aim is to let the voices of the people of Lawrence tell the city’s story, rather than media reports or crime statistics. The interviewees ranged from local artists and workers, to school employees, to Mayor Daniel Rivera. Older residents recalled a thriving workforce, before mills were taken over by automated machinery. Younger residents observed that the city is on the upswing from the ’80s and ’90s, when drug-related crime and arson spiked.
“What the perception is, compared to the reality, is not that close,” Rivera said during a filmed interview with a student. Spanish subtitles hovered on the bottom of the screen.
Students worked on the project for five months prior to screening their footage at El Taller. The interviews will be edited together into a final, cohesive project that will give credit to both schools and their community partners. Lawrence High School teacher Cesar Sanchez Beras, the Lawrence History Center and Movement City Youth Network, all had a role in putting the project together. Cutler has spent several years developing a partnership between Phillips Academy and Lawrence High School. He said if he had to sum the work up in a word, the word would be “real.”