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White Plains Seniors Discuss Field Experience at Proyecto BBRAVO

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – White Plains High School Senior Claudia Benítez said she learned the importance of being bilingual this summer while working at an immigration law firm and translating marriage certificates, birth certificates and other documents .

Benítez, 17, was asked to translate for a Bikkal & Associates client who was illegally in the U.S. and married to a man taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"That’s when it hit me how important Spanish was," Benítez said. "In order to help her husband, she had to put herself at risk. The poor woman was devastated and torn with a hard decision. She was also dealing with a pregnancy."

Benítez and two other seniors gave presentations in the high school library Wednesday detailing their summer field experience with Proyecto BBRAVO, a White Plains High School program that emphasizes the importance of speaking English and Spanish by combining coursework with summer employment that includes tasks that require speaking Spanish.

Since its inception in 2004, Proyecto Bilingües, Biculturales, Respaldando Ascendiendo hacia Virtudes y Oportunidades -- Project Bilingual, Bicultural, Ascending towards Virtues and Opportunities (BRAVO) -- has selected a handful of Latino students based on their Spanish essays and English resumes and organized interviews for them with site coordinators from places like Latin Media Ventures and the Westchester County Legislature. The participants work 200 hours at their assigned site, chronicle their experiences in a daily blog, write a research paper that relates to their field experience, and present their Proyecto BBRAVO experiences at a fall symposium.

Bianca Acuña discussed her field experience shadowing Katherine Palacio, a White Plains High School graduate and nurse on the cardio step-down floor at White Plains Hospital.

“The program Proyecto BBRAVO has opened up the door to many Latin American students like myself and give us a sense of direction,” said Acuña, 17, who hopes to work as a nurse after college. “Being a nurse teaches you so much about giving back to your community, especially as a Latina.”

Seeing the disparities in healthcare coverage between Latin-Americans and whites concerned Acuña, who says hospitals should do more to break through language barriers that often prevent patients from completely understanding their health.

Alberto Minotta, a Spanish Language Arts teacher, said he got the idea to start Proyecto BBRAVO while attending a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar at the University of Texas at San Antonio in the summer of 2001.

“I was inspired to write more curricula for my Latin-American and Native Latino students. And then, and then 9/11 hit. When towers fell a variety of different cultures were put under the microscope. I felt it was necessary to make sure students of ages 14 to 18 realize that they’re important and not lose their identity,” said Minotta. “I thought, ‘how great would it be if I could find careers that exemplify how awesome it can be to be bilingual and bicultural, in this case Latino.’ ”

Other Proyecto BBRAVO participants this year include María Camila Gómez, Lilibeth Ramos, Emily Huapaya, María Bautista, and Sara Espinoza.

Do you know someone who participated in Proyecto BBRAVO? What was their experience like? Join the conversation below.

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