Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts | 501 S. Sapodilla Ave, WPB, FL 33401


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Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts | 501 S. Sapodilla Ave, WPB, FL 33401


Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts | 501 S. Sapodilla Ave, WPB, FL 33401


Rompiendo la Barrera (Breaking the Barrier)

Maria Lopez Morey expresses her gratitude for the support she has received as she embarks on her journey as a Cuban immigrant at a predominantly English-speaking high school.
Nicolle Forestieri
Band junior Maria Lopez immigrated from Cuba to the United States Jan. 2023.

*DISCLAIMER: The following quotes from Maria Lopez Morey were written in Spanish through email and translated, from Spanish to English, via Google Translate and native-speaking staffers on The Muse.  

Stepping on a plane for the first time, band junior Maria Lopez Morey left her parents, country, and culture behind. Attending a school surrounded by unfamiliar faces and voices, Lopez Morey now has to adapt to speaking and learning in a language she has only known for less than a year.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Lopez is just one of the 425,000 Cubans who have migrated to the United States in 2022-2023 in search of a “better life.” Years of communist rule and economic crisis have led hundreds of thousands of Cubans to the United States, with some leaving their family and friends behind. 

“I came to the United States looking for new opportunities (and) a new and better life than the one I was living in Cuba,” Lopez wrote. “In reality, it was not easy to leave all my friends and family members that I had in my country due to the bad situation currently happening in Cuba. I think that in these moments I can understand the suffering that all people who have to migrate from their countries go through, leaving everything behind: their homes, friends, and family.”

Lopez currently lives with her uncle, who has been living in the United States for 10 years. Her uncle organized and accompanied Lopez and her siblings through their journey and immigration process. 

“The trip here was unexpected,” Lopez wrote. “From one day to the next, my uncle told us that he had already booked a ticket for us. We (my siblings and I) barely had time to (pack our) clothes and family photos.” 

After arriving in Florida, Lopez attended Palm Beach Lakes Community High School for the second semester of her sophomore year. Once the window to audition reopened, Lopez applied and, once accepted, enrolled at the school for her junior year. Lopez describes her junior year so far as “amazing,” thanking her teachers, counselors, principal, and friends for helping her through her first year at the school.

“I love my classes, my teachers, (and) my friends in class,” Lopez wrote. “(I) thank God they are all very good and kind to me. I feel like I am part of the great family that they are.”  

Lopez says she is especially grateful for school counseling director Olga Middleton. Ms. Middleton, being fluent in Spanish, is able to provide Lopez not only with academic help but also emotional support. 

“There is a person whom I call ‘my second mother’ and that is my dear counselor, Ms. Middleton, my guardian angel,” Lopez wrote. “She is with me in my sad moments and in my happy moments, always supporting me, hugging me, and taking care of me as if I were her daughter.”

Although Lopez does not feel as though her classes are difficult, she recognizes a barrier that she feels can hinder her experience at school: language. However, with the help of Google Translate, she is able to overcome these issues and has seen a great improvement in her learning.

“Having arrived here less than a year ago, I think I understand English quite a bit, but I still have a long way to go to be able to understand more and speak it,” Lopez wrote. “But seriously, I have seen a great improvement in my sense of listening. I understand a lot (of) my classes. Of course, there are things that I don’t (understand), but I do understand a lot.”

While learning English is important to Lopez for educational purposes, she also hopes to become fluent to better communicate with her peers. While she does get help with translation from friends who speak both Spanish and English, she hopes to one day be able to converse on her own. 

“At first, I had no friends, and I felt a little alone, but now I have many friends who speak and who do not speak Spanish,” Lopez wrote. “Thanks to them, today I feel (like a) part of their family. And as I (always) say: even if (we only talk) through (a) translator, someday very soon we will throw the translator aside, and we will be able to share more. In fact, in all my classes, without exception, I feel very welcomed.”

Lopez’s AP Spanish Language class is a place where the language barrier between herself and her classmates and teachers is dissolved, and Lopez can communicate with and be fully understood by her peers. 

“(As for) my Spanish class, the only thing I can say is that I love it, along with Mrs. Brown and my friends from class,” Lopez wrote. “There, we do projects, we play, we do competitions, and I really like to tell everyone my stories about Cuba. They say that they like how I speak, that they understand me because I speak very clear Spanish.” 

Spanish teacher Lori Brown sees Lopez, a native Spanish speaker, as a resource to help her other students. Ms. Brown often encourages her students to “talk to her as much as you can in Spanish” to help train their ears in the Spanish language. She tells her students to try to stop translating every sentence and “just take it in.” 

“Oh my gosh, it’s the best thing (to have a fluent Spanish speaker in class),” Ms. Brown said. “It’s nice (to) have a non-native speaker with a native (that they) feel comfortable with. You can make mistakes; you can ask questions. It’s hugely beneficial for both sides (to always be) learning something.”

Communications junior Keira Cardoso relates to Morey, as she is also Cuban. She, however, differs from Maria, as Spanish is her second language, although she aspires to become a fluent Spanish speaker. 

“She (Morey) knows that I really want to learn,” Cardoso said. “So whenever I’m struggling during a presentation, or whenever I don’t know the exact word to say, she looks at me, she smiles really sweetly, and then she helps me, and she’ll say the word. She’s always helping me translate to Spanish, helping me speak, helping me pronounce stuff, and helping me understand her better.”

Although Lopez enjoys the comfort of Spanish class, she is also enrolled in two English classes: intensive reading, to aid her in learning and comprehension of text in English, and English Honors. Additionally, she works with her English teacher Zachary Rozanski for extra help during lunch.  As an English Learner student, Lopez is required to pass an annual English language proficiency exam as well as all graduation-required academic exams. 

“I am taking (an English class) with Ms. Mayse (English teacher Kelly Mayse) who has looked for all possible methods to (make) learning English (easier),” Lopez wrote. “I am doing great there, even though I have already failed some state English tests. She always tells me that she is proud of me and my work, that we will continue trying, and that step by step, we will achieve success.”

Ms. Mayse’s intensive reading class started the year off with 34 students, with all but 2 students, Lopez and another, testing out. Instead of viewing this as a loss, Ms. Mayse appreciates the opportunity to work one-on-one with Lopez and has seen great improvement. 

“She was actually really close (to passing), so the growth was incredible,” Ms. Mayse said. “ I was very impressed. She’s so good about asking what things mean, asking for an explanation. She’s such a hard worker.”

Lopez says she is “hard on herself” in regard to her progress in learning English. While she can often adapt to conversation and grasp overarching concepts, she says assessments and projects are challenging for her. Despite these obstacles, her desire to learn English grows with the time that she spends in an English-speaking country and school. 

“There is a phrase that Ms. Middleton and my grandmother always tell me,” Lopez wrote. “‘You arrived in this country not even a year ago, and you want to run before you walk.’ I feel that sometimes I am very demanding of myself, but thanks to the support of all my dear teachers and friends, I am working on it, to fix it and be a little more understanding (with) myself.” 

As Lopez progresses, her goals expand beyond passing state exams and learning English to fully acclimating to her new life. She wants to encourage even those who may not know her to reach out and try to become friends with her. 

“I would like to leave a message for all those students who still do not know me or who, out of regret for not being able to speak Spanish and me not being able to speak English, have not (reached out to me) — do it,” Lopez wrote. “I am here to (make) many friends, learn, and have moments of happiness with you. I don’t know many of you, but I love you all anyway.”

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Rayven Richards
Rayven Richards, Social Media Editor
 Rayven Richards is a second-year staffer and social media editor on The Muse. She enjoys spending her free time swimming and hanging out with her friends and family. She also loves to read, complete puzzles, and listen to music, with her favorite artists being Drake, Brent Faiyaz and Beyoncé. She joined The Muse to further her journalism skills. Now an editor, she strives to create a positive and encouraging environment on the staff. While she is not sure what she would like to do in the future, whatever it is, she hopes to help people in any aspect.
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    Sandra Gonzalez-DaughertyApr 15, 2024 at 6:52 pm

    Amazing story! My daughter is in Dreyfoos and I have already asked her to reach out to you.
    Keep up the good work. This country is amazing, and great things are waiting for you! Our family wishes only the best for you!