English 12 Helps Students Find Their Wings

by Journalism Class

Days before Thanksgiving, origami butterflies fluttered throughout Sherwood’s halls. Those butterflies symbolize the struggles of women around the world, and the need to take a stand against violence. The English Department brought attention to the issues presented in “In the Time of the Butterflies,” a book new to the 12th grade curriculum about the sisters who fought to overcome a ruthless dictator.

The English Department, along with help from EmpowHER and the International Club, raised money through a fundraiser of selling origami butterflies. With the fundraiser being during the week of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the profits went towards The House of Ruth, a nonprofit organization that serves more than 600 women and children who are abused and homeless in Washington D.C.

For students who come from the Dominican Republic, the story told in “In the Time of Butterflies” is a real part of their families’ heritage. Senior Lis Taveras moved from the Dominican Republic two years ago, and she has been hearing stories about the Rafael Trujillo regime and the resistance of the Mirabal sisters through family stories and at school. Trujillo was a dictator for decades in the Dominican Republic until his assassination in 1961. “My grandma told me … there was lots of whispering [because] you didn’t know if the government was listening,” said Taveras. “You had to have a picture of [Trujillo] in your house.”

Another Dominican Republic native, sophomore Eli Mercedes, came one year ago to Sherwood. “The Mirabal sisters wanted to fight for the rights of the people, and wanted people to be free,” Mercedes said. The people Trujillo killed often included those who opposed him and his ruthless policies. However, once the murders of the Mirabal sisters took place, Mercedes said the eyes of the people were opened to governmental atrocities under Trujillo’s regime, in which tens of thousands of people were killed.

MCPS adapted a new curriculum in order to incorporate more international literature at school. The Sherwood English department’s decided to dedicate each quarter to a specific region of the world. Since this marking period is focused on Latin America, English 12 teachers Samantha Ager and Christiane Lock chose the historical fiction novel, “In the Time of the Butterflies.”

“I think that there are not a lot of female voices in our literary curriculum, especially if you look at the 10th grade curriculum— there are essentially no women writers,” said Ager, who began teaching Honors English 12 this year. “In 11th grade, when I was teaching last year, I had maybe one female writer, so I thought it was important to incorporate not just a writer of a different color, but also a writer who is a woman telling stories about women. We don’t hear those voices in school [as] often [as we should], especially when more than 50 percent of the population is female.”

The Mirabal sisters were known as “Las Mariposas” or “The Butterflies.” However, once the nature of their activities were discovered, they were murdered by supporters of Trujillo. They are now considered national heroes by the Dominican people for standing up against injustice and fighting for their rights.

“For us, [the sisters’ deaths] that happened in the Dominican Republic is really important,” said Taveras. “The government says it’s really important to never forget this event.” Taveras says she feels pride when reading about the Dominican Republic resistance movement in “In the Time of Butterflies,” and that it accurately represents the struggle of the Mirabal sisters and the eventual impact it had on their country.

She also supports the book’s involvement in the Sherwood English curriculum, and believes it conveys an important message. “Anyone can make a difference in the world, and in violence against women,” said Taveras.