DESCRIPTION OF THE SUCCESS STORY
The student at this high secondary professional school is an immigrant youngster from Guinea, fatherless. Guinea was a former African colony of Portugal, so the student spoke a variety of the Portuguese language. His country was felt as incredibly different from his own. He had no expectations in his country and had been witness to countless and countinous guerilla warfare. When the student arrived at the Portuguese professional high secondary school in Castelo Branco, he revealed his state of amazement to the novelty of the place and the culture. His eyes were wide open, his clothes were not appropriate to the climate ot the environment. He did not have the things he needed to survive in the new country nor the academic requirements expected.
The younster had the support of an evangelical church, who continued to follow him through his studies in Portugal. Gradually he became interested in nature and in poetry and sought to become a ‘man of culture’ as this is valued in his own culture. He sought the company of teachers and of the school director often and a sort of maternal relationship was established with the female school director. They talked on the phone during the holidays, they talked face to face very often and they went shopping together.
His success is due to this familiarity that was created and that was culturally adequate for this boy and also to the continuous efforts of the teacher to motivate the boy to study hard and harder and to cherish what all considered to be a golden opportunity for a student from Guinea.
The student was always actively engaged in the school gatherings that the school organized for African students during special events such as Christmas; he recited poems and loved to feel admired by the teachers and the director. When he left school he kept in contact with the teachers and to treat them in familiar terms by announcing good and bad news, such as that of the detah of one of his relatives. He is now pursuing his studies at university and has just written a book of poems. He has invited his former school director to write the preface of his book because, for him, the director and teachers who nurtured him in Portugal are his family in Portugal.
This is a success story because not only did the immigrant student adapt to a very novel school environment, culture, language use and country, but he managed to overcome his strangeness and his lack of academic preparation, since he is now at university. His success is possibly due to the familiarity and nurturing environment he was met with at this high secondary professional school and to the unrelenting encouragement of his teachers and the school director.
Being an orphan of father and having witnessed guerrilla warfare since his birth, the protection and emotional involvement he was able to develop under in Portugal, both at school and through the church that was supporting him, was very beneficial and created the familiar environment that was part of his culture of extended familial bonds and intergenerational learning. It is noticeable how he sought the company of teachers and of the school director and how he acted with other students during events to seek the approval of his ‘school community’.
The fact that the school director was available to interact with the student inside and outside of the school was in this case also extremely beneficial because the immigrant student was ble to experience school and social living in the country he immigrated to as extensions of one another, thus creating a sense of harmony and integration that contributed to his personal development and to the development of his natural abilities, such as poetry.
There was an element of luck in this success story in that the student was given a ‘golden’ opportunity, as was said and felt motivated to do his best, but there was also the lucky chance that he could find the nurtaring familial environment he was missing in this professional school.
Higher secondary professional education policies are more flexible than higher secondary schools in that they may adapt the curriculum to the students’ needs and channel their abilities to community and professional projects. They are smaller environments where a sense of familiarity can be cherished among teachers and students, although this may obviously depend on the personal characteristics of the actors involved.
The transferability potential of this success story resides in understanding that cultures have to meet halfway, i.e. the teachers’ and the students’ cultures have to combine in significant ways for both actors. To understand the strangeness an immigrant student may feel on arriving to a totally different country requires an attitude of openness on the part of teachers and headteachers and also a special dedication to the well-being (both physical and psychological) of the young newcomer.