Original URL: http://www.boston.com/news/education/k_12/articles/2003/10/12/for_their_take_on_bilingual_ed_you_need_a_vcr/

For their take on bilingual ed, you need a VCR
Boston Globe
By Elizabeth Shelburne

The youngsters gathered in an empty classroom at the Vietnamese-American Civic Association in Dorchester are unanimous in their opinion. Bilingual education is a good thing.

When the association's youth coordinator, Phuong-dai Nguyen, proposed doing a project on any issue touching the lives of the program's Vietnamese refugee and immigrant teenagers, her students quickly embraced the idea of doing something on bilingual education They had all benefited from the method and felt their transition from ''Vietnamese newcomer" to ''Vietnamese-American" was hastened by the program. They also felt that no one had sought the opinion of students -- the group most affected by the 2002 vote on Question 2, which eliminates the program from public schools.

The youths chose to create a video to document their feelings about and experiences with bilingual education, in part because they thought taking that route might be the easiest option. By their own admission, they wanted to avoid having to write another long essay with research and hard work. With a giggle and a blush of embarrassment, Oanh Truong, 17, admitted that the video turned out to be the more difficult project. ''It was easier because we didn't have to write, but we were nervous on the video," she said.

It took a month of working every day for two hours to finish the filming and the translation. ''At the end of the month, we were going crazy," Duy Ly, 15, said of the film-making process, which the youths completed on their own, with only occasional guidance from adults. The videomakers interviewed high school students, college students, parents, and bilingual teachers in English and Vietnamese. They took turns operating the camera (donated, along with film-editing services, by Boston Network News, Boston's cable access station), translating the Vietnamese into English subtitles.

Their film portrays a community deeply indebted to the bilingual education program and convinced of its necessity. Several in the film, however, expressed awareness of some of the problems of the method and acknowledge that staying in it too long can hold a student back. Even so, nearly every child, parent, and educator in the film expresses the belief that such a program is an incalculable advantage for non-English-speaking refugees and immigrants. Without it, said Thien Le, 17, who arrived here three years ago, newcomers ''will drop out of school and become gangsters or whatever."

These filmmakers seem in no danger of such a fate. They are part of a larger project at the civic association known as the Youth Development Program, which has about 30 teenagers. The group meets throughout the year, nearly every day. They participate in, and even lead, workshops on careers and on issues affecting teenagers, such as HIV/AIDS, smoking, and gang violence. They receive tutoring in English and for their school classes and spend time each week volunteering with other community organizations.

While clearly proud of their efforts on the film, they seemed, not surprisingly for teenagers, self-conscious about it. When they first received the video back from editing, they watched it as a group. ''We were laughing because we looked all funny," said Oanh Truong.

Phuong-dai Nguyen, the youth leader, is considering sending the film out to a wider audience than the community organizations she has sent it to thus far. The creators are excited about the possibility that some politicians might see the film, although they all recoiled at the idea of it being shown on television.

''Just don't show our faces," said Duy Ly, laughing.

The 10 youngsters involved in making the film enjoyed the process so much that they are considering making more. Nhi Le, the association peer leader who appears often in the video, suggested SARS as the next topic.

''Or going to war in Iraq, because I think a lot of people did not want to do that," said Thoa Huynh, 17.

For more information about the civic association and the film, visit www.vacaboston.org, or call Phuong-dai Nguyen at 617-288-7344.

Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.