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Keeping Portuguese alive on island

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Tem sido um ano desafiador: it has been a challenging year.

That's likely how the Portuguese School of Bermuda would describe 2020 after Covid-19 wrecked its fundraising efforts and threw a monkey wrench into plans for teacher recruitment.

A donor drive is in the works but, meanwhile, the hope is that virtual classes will keep the programme alive.

The school has helped hundreds of children learn Portuguese since it was launched as an afterschool initiative for primary-aged students in the early 1980s.

“In March, the Portuguese School had to suspend its operations through to the end of the school year, putting us in a very tough financial position,” said Richard Ambrosio, the chairman of the Portuguese Cultural Association of Bermuda.

“Most of our fundraising for any year takes place in the spring, but every major function this year was cancelled: the Ag Show, the Kappa Classic, the Santo Cristo Festival, bake sales, a fundraising dinner and a summer football tournament.

“We were going to rely on these events to manage our cashflow to 2021 as school tuition covers only 20 to 25 per cent of our operational costs. We estimate a lost opportunity to raise at least $30,000.”

The pandemic coincided with the retirement of Veronica Franco, the school's teacher of nearly a decade.

The search for her replacement unearthed “recruitment issues” which ultimately led the PCA to plan for an online programme with a teacher from Portugal.

Classes begin in two weeks with Sandra Patricio, who has a master's degree in language education and has taught Portuguese and English to “preschoolers, primary, middle, high school and even adult learners”.

Mr Ambrosio said: “The continuing nature of the pandemic means that we have to safeguard the safety of our students and parents. Subject to how we, as a society, are able to manage Covid-19 and how quickly we can get a new teacher to relocate to Bermuda, we hope to return to in-person classes by September 2021.”

The Portuguese School was started nearly 40 years ago by the Portuguese Cultural Centre, which merged with the Portuguese Association to become the Portuguese Cultural Association in the early 1990s.

Lessons were held at various public schools until about 1993 when they were moved “into a classroom rented by the PCA on the ground floor of the Vasco da Gama Club's Reid Street headquarters”.

“In 1997, the PCA opened a cultural centre in an old building on Laffan Street owned by St Theresa's Church which the PCA renovated. The Portuguese School's classes were held in that centre,” Mr Ambrosio said.

“Over the next few years, the PCA faced a number of challenges and eventually merged with Vasco da Gama Club in 2003.

“As part of this process, the club assumed responsibility for the running of the Portuguese School and signed a protocol with the Azorean Government to that effect in 2004, whereby the latter provides the school with an annual grant.

“This has continued to this day and the Azorean Government remains the largest contributor to the school's operating budget.”

For a few years the school operated out of Mount Saint Agnes Academy but it returned to Reid Street in 2014 after “extensive renovations” to the classroom at Vasco da Gama Club were completed.

Classes also extended to Saturdays thanks to Ms Franco's “hard work and unwavering dedication to the students of the school”, Mr Ambrosio said.

“The Portuguese School delivers its classes in accordance with the Quadro de Referência para o Ensino Português no Estrangeiro, which is the official framework for teaching Portuguese as a foreign language, sponsored by the Instituto Camões — the government of Portugal institution, which promotes the Portuguese language and culture worldwide.

“This framework and the school's delivery of instruction are designed to ensure that students leave with a sufficient level of competence to allow them to reintegrate into the Portuguese educational system; many of its students are the children of Portuguese guest workers.”

Having determined the interest is there, the hope is to also offer classes to adults.

“It has always been a challenge in terms of staffing resources to make things happen,” Mr Ambrosio said.

“You have to balance the creation of new programmes with maintaining core ones, such as our programme for children. This is especially the case given our limited time and capacity as a volunteer-run organisation.

“We have been in talks with some possible teachers to give virtual adult classes. For now, our priority is to get the school up and running, and then we will turn our attention to adults. We very much hope to be able to make this a reality.”

Cultural events throughout the academic year usually keep the students active. Anticipating that most events will be cancelled, Mr Ambrosio said the group did “expect to face [further] challenges”.

“While Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted, we are not yet at a point where we return to the pre-pandemic status quo. We cannot fill the club, as an example, with 150 people for dinners and functions.

“We will be reaching out to potential donors in the coming weeks. We want to try to build a solid endowment fund where we put the school on a sound financial basis post-pandemic and can carry through with our strategic vision for the school and the PCA.”

Why they joined ...

Born and educated in Bermuda, Paula Tavares is able to read and write in Portuguese and wanted her son, Jordan, and daughter, Layla, to be able to do the same

“As a child the only language that was allowed in my home was Portuguese,” she said.

“I didn't have any siblings so I was forced to speak it, now with my children there is a lot of English in our home, so it is important for them to attend these classes. They learn the basic concepts, grammar skills, and also learn about the Portuguese culture.

“Being able to communicate in the Portuguese language has been very beneficial for my children as they have learnt the fundamentals of their Portuguese heritage and helps them to communicate with family, friends and acquaintances who are Portuguese and are not fluent in the English language. It also has given them the skill of a second language.”

With Portuguese such an important part of her family's culture and history, Marlene Ferreira wanted her son, Lucas, to be able to speak the language

“Most of his immediate family speaks both English and Portuguese and we would like for him to be able to speak and understand both languages especially when we travel to the Azores,” she said.

“He seems to be able to understand what other kids his age are saying in Portuguese. He was able to quickly adapt and to enjoy summer camp in the Azores in which they spoke to him in Portuguese.”

Make a donation to the Portuguese School of Bermuda into Butterfield Bank account 20006060707516100 listing the name of the school. Alternatively, send an e-mail: For more information visit Classes with the Portuguese School of Bermuda begin October 5. Tuition is $300 for the year. Register at

Christmas cheer: students of the Portuguese School of Bermuda with Ed Christopher, the Town Crier
Students of the Portuguese School of Bermuda greet Vasco Cordeiro, the president of the Azores (Photograph supplied)
Parents of students at the Portuguese School of Bermuda take part in a Christmas tree competition (Photograph supplied)
Students take part in a Christmas play and concert at the Portguese School of Bermuda (Photograph supplied)
The Portuguese School formed part of a procession in honour of the 2019 Portuguese holiday (Photograph supplied)
Students at the Portuguese School of Bermuda (Photograph supplied)
Before Covid-19, the Portuguese School of Bermuda met in a classroom on the ground floor of the Vasco da Gama Club's Reid Street headquarters (File photograph)

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Published September 25, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated September 25, 2020 at 8:59 am)

Keeping Portuguese alive on island

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