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Enduring Partnership

Alumna's English language school impresses BSU delegation visiting Cabo Verde

When Zita Vieira Mendes, G’13, began teaching young Cabo Verdeans the English language seven years ago, she served 15 students. Today, the organization she started is working with about 400 youngsters.

Mendes provides English instruction that is unavailable in the African nation’s public and private schools, and she credits her graduate studies in education at Bridgewater State University with inspiring her to act.

“I came back eager to do more and do better,” said Mendes, who attended Bridgewater on a scholarship that is a result of the longstanding partnership between BSU and her undergraduate institution, the University of Cabo Verde. “I can never pay that back, but somehow I will pay it forward.”

People on the 10-island archipelago predominately speak Portuguese and Cabo Verdean Creole. But English is essential to the country’s development.

On a recent trip to Cabo Verde, BSU administrators toured her organization, which is called ELL CV and located in the capital of Praia. Legislative, municipal, and business officials from Massachusetts communities with large Cabo Verdean populations joined the trip, which celebrated 20 years of collaboration between Bridgewater and Cabo Verde.

The local delegation met with Cabo Verdean President José Maria Pereira Neves, who came to BSU in September. The tour also included a visit to the University of Cabo Verde, which BSU helped establish in 2006. The U.S. contingent also explored an agriculture system that uses minimal water and soil.

“At the heart of the partnership really is our students and our graduates,” said President Frederick W. Clark, Jr., ’83, noting about 200 people from Cabo Verde have earned degrees or completed leadership development at BSU. “We have alumni in Cabo Verde making an incredible difference for the country.”

Mendes is one shining example of the impact Bridgewater graduates are having, Clark said.

Zita Mendes, wearing a black BSU shirt, poses with members of the delegation.

In addition to working with children, ELL CV offers translation services and programming for adults. Mendes, who also teaches at the University of Cabo Verde and is working on earning a PhD in English education, developed a curriculum that other schools are using to offer English instruction to young students.

“English is becoming more and more important,” said Angelo Barbosa, director of BSU’s Pedro Pires Institute for Cabo Verdean Studies. “It’s creating new opportunities to bring about investment and connections to the world.”

Mendes praised Bridgewater professors for providing strategies to teach beyond the grammar and mechanics of a language and help students practice their skills orally.

Those multilingual skills were on full display when the BSU delegation conversed in English with ELL CV children.

“They were asking hard questions and (students) were able to answer in the proper manner,” Mendes said. “That was the most special moment.”

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