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Sup with the Sup
Episode 26: PHS Senior Isabella Leite

Welcome everyone to the next episode of Provo City School District’s What’s Up with the Sup podcast. I am Superintendent Wendy Dau. This week I am joined by Bella Leite, a senior at Provo High School who has gone from student to teacher as she has developed a curriculum entirely in Portuguese aimed at educating teenagers about intimate partner abuse.

Before that, let’s go over our updates.

  • First, we want to recognize that February is Black History Month and also CTE Month.
  • Next, on Monday, February 12th, we will have an information meeting for families that live around the construction of our new Wasatch Elementary. This meeting will be held at 5 o’clock p.m. in the library of our current Wasatch Elementary School.
  • Please join us for the District Day of Dance on Monday, February 12th at Provo High School. The event begins at 7 p. m. Tickets for adults are 5 online or 7 at the library.
  • The next school board meeting will be a study session and business meeting on Tuesday, February 13th. Study sessions are held in Boardroom 1 at the District Office and business meetings take place in the Professional Development Center. Both meetings are open to the public and public comment is welcome at the business meeting. The study session will begin at 4 o’clock p. m. and the business meeting will begin at 7 o’clock p.m.
  • Thursday, February 15th at 6 o’clock p. m. at Sunset View Elementary, we will hold an information night for Camp Big Springs for all parents of 5th graders in Provo City School District.
  • Parent teacher conferences are continuing this month with high schools on February 15th and middle schools on February 20th. Please look for more information to come directly from your school.
  • And then, as always, look for the weekly videocast from me every Friday. In this short video, I provide important information and updates about work happening throughout the district.

Our guest today is Bella Leite, a senior at Provo High School. Bella is also the daughter of one of our elementary principals, Jamie Davis-Leite, at Lakeview Elementary.

Wendy: I’m here today with Bella Leite. Uh, she is a senior at Provo High School and I am really excited to have you as a guest on our show.

Bella: Thank you so much for inviting me. I am so happy to be here.

Wendy: So tell us a little bit about yourself, Bella. Tell us what your schooling’s been like and um, what you’ve been studying and working on and how you’re preparing yourself for the next steps in your life.

Bella: So I am a high school senior at Provo High School, and I have been part of the Dual Language Immersion Program, um, Portuguese Dual Language Immersion Program, um, since first grade. And so I’ve been able to, um, learn and, learn and be fluent in Portuguese for the past 12 years. Um, I grew up, um, a Brazilian father and an American mother. And I spoke Portuguese at home when I was very young, but, um, that eventually kind of dissipated as there was more influence from, like, those around me in my community speaking English. And the Portuguese Dual Language Immersion Program allowed me to continue, um, learning Portuguese and developing a fluency in the language. And, um, I’m really grateful that I’ve had that opportunity because I would not be able to speak the language without it.

So I am very passionate about health care. I think that that’s something I want to pursue in the future right now. I am studying to become a medical assistant at MTech and I want to hopefully major in biology and my dream is to be able to use both, um, my fluency in Portuguese and my passion for medicine to be able to help communities like the Portuguese speaking communities that exist here in the U.S.

Wendy: So are you wanting to be a doctor or just do something in the medical field?

Bella: Um, I do think that my ultimate goal would be going to medical school.

Wendy: Okay.

Bella: I’m very interested in, um, neuroscience as well.

Wendy: Oh, wow.

Bella: I don’t know exactly what I would want to pursue, but I did a course at Brown University over the summer about neuroscience, and I was definitely really interested.

Wendy: You were hooked.

Bella: Yes, I was.

Wendy: Yeah, that was awesome. Okay, you want to kind of combine this love of science and medicine and healthcare and helping people with this knowledge of Portuguese. I love that you said that you kind of grew up with Portuguese being spoken in your home, because I think sometimes, at least when I grew up, if you grew up with another language being spoken, we didn’t tell anybody about it. So, we have a very different attitude about that now. Um, do you speak Portuguese, like, to your mom? Do you, to your siblings? Like, well, like, what does that look like? Tell me a little bit about that.

Bella: Yeah. Firstly, I’d like to recognize, like, um, we have accepted those that have, like, that speak a different language at home. And it’s really amazing that like with the Portuguese dual language immersion program, we have a lot of students that are trilingual with Spanish. And I think it’s awesome that we’re now starting to recognize those students more.

Wendy: I, I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s fantastic. We need to see it as. Not something to overcome, but like, no, celebrate this. This gives you a ton of advantages. Like, just as you’re connecting with people across the country and the world, right? It’s definitely an asset.

Bella: And your other question, I speak Portuguese, probably mostly at school, and I interact mostly with my family in English. But, um, when we’re visiting extended family in Brazil, we always talk in Portuguese. I definitely use Portuguese as a secret language with my siblings.

Wendy: I wondered that. That was gonna be my next question. Okay.

Bella: Yeah, like if I’m on the phone around people with my dad or mom, I’ll just start talking Portuguese so I can keep things private. But it’s definitely something nice that I enjoy using with my family.

Wendy:That’s great. You’re kind of alluding to a project that you have been working on, so tell us a little bit about this project and how it combines what you’re passionate about with your knowledge of Portuguese.

Bella: Yeah, so I am a Girl Scout. I started Girl Scouts when I was in fourth grade and Girl Scouts allows the platform to be able to complete a project and create a sustainable difference in your community. And so they have the gold award and you can develop a project about anything that you’re passionate about. And so I had always known that I’d really wanted to do this from a very young age. And I was researching about. different things that I may want to discuss or address. And at the same time, my parents were going through a divorce and I kind of saw firsthand within my family and extended family, like, the impact of domestic violence, um, and intimate partner abuse. And so, I was able to kind of become hyper aware of that, and I started doing more research and learning that that was something that I would want to address. And over time, I just kind of learned that education and raising awareness is the first step to creating a sustainable change.

So I knew that I would want to do something in regards to education and the curriculum. And with my connection with the Portuguese Dual Language Immersion Program and my connections with the curriculum coordinator for the Portuguese program, I decided that I would want to make the curriculum in Portuguese about domestic violence in both the U.S. and Brazil. Domestic violence is especially prevalent in Brazil due to, like, the culture and, like, toxic masculinity, which in Portuguese is called machismo, and that’s very pervasive.

Wendy: I mean, you’re sharing a huge piece of yourself in this. So what does that process look like when you’re going through something and you’re like, I’m going to turn this into something that’s going to help others? Talk me through how that thought process works and how that’s helped you.

Bella: When my parents were getting divorced, I definitely was like, kind of in the thick of it and I very much saw it as like a deficit. It’s only bad and I just wanted the ideal family, but over time I realized that I gained a lot of knowledge and strength from the experience and it almost became my superpower and like I can empathize with people in similar situations. Or even just people who are struggling in general. I think it allowed me to have more empathy and that’s what prompted me to want to help people and contribute to my community is because I know that our struggles can, like, inspire other people to make a difference in their own lives.

Wendy: Absolutely. Tell me about this curriculum. So how are you educating? What’s the best way to educate somebody about domestic violence because this is a hard topic. Like this hits a lot of Individuals and sometimes when it’s a hard topic, we just avoid it. We kind of pretend it doesn’t happen So how did you go about constructing this and thinking about how you could help?

Bella: So I did recognize that this is like a mature topic and should be implemented for a mature audience, but it’s also important to kind of implement these ideas and teach these things like when people are young and like neuroplasticity. You can learn things faster and embody those experiences when you’re younger. So I thought that high school would be kind of a good range for students to be able to address these maturely, but also not develop bad habits.

Wendy: And it’s when people are starting to have relationships, right?

Bella: Yes.

Wendy: And so they’re, they’re getting kind of serious sometimes. And so this is helpful. So they can learn pretty fast. Like, here are some warning signs. This is what, this is what you need to watch out for. Okay, keep going. I interrupted you.

Bella: No, you’re good. So the curriculum is split into five weeks and it kind of discusses a different portion or aspect of domestic violence. So the first week is very basic and just like the different types of violence or abuse and then the second week kind of shifts into like warning signs, like you said, and then the next portion is reaching out to different organizations and institutions that protect victims and a significant portion of that is having the students try to develop a service project, either by reaching out to any domestic violence organizations and seeing what Is needed from them and kind of then creating more service,

Wendy: almost more awareness, right? Because, if I’m not actually connecting with those organizations, right, then I’m just kind of learning about it superficially. But if I can actually see and feel the impact, then it changes.

Bella: Yeah. Mm hmm. And it definitely allows students to become, like, aware of what their community needs right now and then they’ll be more willing to, like, be aware of these things, like you said.

Wendy:One of your teachers described you as one of the most empathetic students that they had ever encountered, which I think is an incredible Statement. Not only did they say that you were brilliant, but also that you were empathetic and, and it’s hard to get that combination sometimes in individuals, not just in young people. I mean, an adult as well, but tell me a little bit about how your experiences have helped you to help others or helped you to just be able to connect with other people and support them.

Bella: So I definitely think that without, like, the experiences that I’ve had, I would have never wanted to pursue a project like this and try and make a difference in regards to domestic violence. I think these experiences allow me to, like, connect to those who have struggled, and a lot of my friends and peers are willing to talk and be vulnerable with me, and we can mutually benefit from this vulnerability, um, and knowing that we both are trying to heal together, and I think that has allowed me to create deeper connections in my relationships, but also just Creating something that can help people in my community as well.

Wendy: So one of the things you also talked about was how you’re trying to connect people through this curriculum to resources and organizations. So if the curriculum’s in Portuguese, are you connecting Portuguese individuals with organizations here in the United States, or is it specifically addressing people, say, like in Brazil, for example, and connecting them with organizations there? Or is it a combination? Tell me, tell me a little bit about that process.

Bella: Yeah. So, the curriculum has been made in Portuguese, but I did include translations for those viewing it on my website, and it doesn’t provide specific resources at a certain location, but it prompts students to research the organizations in their area. So this curriculum is being implemented in Massachusetts and Florida, and so it would tell the students to research the organizations and institutions in their area that can support victims. But I also have talked more widely about different legislation that protects victims as well. Like,the Violence Against Women Act in the U S and the Maria Pena Law in Brazil.

Wendy: And for those who might not know, tell us about those two acts and what they do.

Bella: Yeah, so Maria da Pena was a woman in Brazil, and at the time, there was very little legislation or protection for, uh, women who have been, like, experiencing violence in an intimate partner relationship, and she was electrocuted, I think, and, like, became paralyzed, and I think over the course of, like, ten years, she, like, fought for this law to be enacted, so now, it’s been a decade or so since it’s been implemented, but it definitely protects women in Brazil and very similar with the Violence Against Women Act. It’s been about a decade and it protects women in situations of like stalking domestic violence and it’s specifically geared for women in those situations.

Wendy: And it’s my understanding to that legislation like that is specifically designed to protect women that are in Relationships because sometimes when they were in these relationships, then there was very little that they could do like if they were married, then it’s like, well, no, there’s no protection for you in this particular instance because because you’re together. So we’re not going to address that. And so now it’s actually You know, really, um, stating that no, we don’t, we don’t tolerate this no matter what the situation is, um, and providing women with that resource and that help that they need.

Bella: Yeah, that’s very true that it’s definitely geared toward domestic violence and the intimate partner abuse that isn’t addressed as much because you are in a committed relationship.

Wendy: Tell me a little bit about why you decided to do this in Portuguese. And was it just because you’re passionate about the language? Or, I mean, you kind of alluded to it a little bit, but explore that a little bit more.

Bella: Yeah, so definitely Portuguese being something that I’m passionate about and being one of my first languages, it was something that I was initially drawn to and wanting to, um, enhance my fluency, but also I did recognize how pervasive this issue in domestic violence was in my family and my country and just in like the culture of Brazil and different like implicit expectations that are given by parents and family and just like society in general.

And so I definitely saw that as more prevalent on my Brazilian side of the family, but I also have recognized that. There’s part of my mom’s culture as well that perpetuates that issue as well. So I think it was important to me to be able to address Brazil and the United States at the same time. And with Portuguese Dual Language Immersion, you have American students living in the U.S. that are able to explore the culture of Brazil at the same time. So I was able to kind of combine the two into a cohesive curriculum.

Wendy: And you said that people are using this curriculum in Massachusetts and Florida. So tell us a little bit about that. How did that happen? And, um, that’s pretty exciting so tell us a little bit.

Bella: Yeah, so, um, they have Portuguese language immersion programs in Massachusetts and Florida. There’s very large populations of Portuguese speaking people in those two states. And so I have been working with Silvia Juhas, who is, uh, the curriculum coordinator for Utah and she was able to reach out to them and we’ve been working together and they were really excited to use the curriculum. That’s awesome.

Wendy: So is it being used with like high school students there?

Bella: Yes, high school.

Wendy: Okay, that makes sense. So what was the greatest takeaway from this project? What would you say you’re like, maybe that was even a surprise, like you didn’t think you were going to get this out of doing this project that you did?

Bella: Yeah, I definitely did not realize that I would have this much healing throughout this project. I was able to kind of reconcile my relationship with Brazil. I kind of felt a disconnect from my culture just by even living in the United States. Like, I stopped speaking Portuguese at a young age and I didn’t really feel connected to my culture. be able to like claim the fact that I’m Brazilian American, but I was able to kind of develop a new connection with Brazil and the United States and kind of addressing the things that are harmful, but also recognizing the beautiful things about the culture as well.

Wendy: So you didn’t allow this one thing to taint your view of, of an entire, you know, society, obviously you’re looking at it and saying there’s still tremendous positives that are coming out of this, and this is a, this is a problem that pervades lots of different cultures and lots of different families, not just in Brazil, but it is something where you can provide some help there. Tell me a little bit about what your plans are after you graduate from Provo High School.

Bella: Yes. Um, so I applied to Smith College and I found out that I was accepted and it’s definitely my dream college. It’s located in Massachusetts, and it’s an all girls school and they have an amazing Biology program and a Portuguese program there. And that’s one of the main reasons why I chose Smith. So I’m really excited to move out to Massachusetts. It’ll be definitely an adventure. It’ll definitely be an adventure.

Wendy: I watched your mom post stuff on social media about it because she was just so excited for you. And does your whole family like have Smith College sweatshirts now?

Bella: Yes, we do.

Wendy: Okay, good. You got some good swag. Okay.

Bella: We, um, went to visit the campus a year ago and me and my mom just felt an immediate sense of like peace and calm. It was like, just like a very safe environment and like perfect. And so I’m really excited. I think it’ll be a great place for me.

Wendy: Good. Your mom posted something kind of interesting. I wanted to ask you about this, that when they do their general education requirements, you kind of get to design your program based on your major and your interests. And tell me a little bit about that and how you think your love of Portuguese actually can kind of fit in with that. What are you envisioning there?

Bella: Yeah, so they have an open curriculum and they’re only, I think Smith College is like one of nine universities in the U.S. that has an open curriculum, which, uh, means that there are no general ed courses. You just have to fulfill requirements for your majors. So I definitely want to have both biology and Portuguese to be a big part of my schedule. They also require one English class, which I actually really enjoy writing in English, and I think that’s like, knowledge, and writing is a way to claim your power. And so I definitely think that English, biology and Portuguese will be the main things that I focus on and will give me a lot of assets in the future.

Wendy: So would you be able to take classes just like a one off class? Like you just had an interest in astronomy and you wanted to take a class there. Do they allow you to do that or does it have to be super focused?

Bella: I believe that you just have to fulfill your requirements for your majors, but they do allow for a lot of room to try new things, especially for those that don’t know exactly what they want to major in yet they’re able to, uh, experiment and just take one class, like you said, and see if they like it. Um, and that’s something that I definitely would want to do because I have noticed that I have a lot of different passions. Like I really enjoy writing as well. And so I think being able to explore and experiment will allow me to feel more confident in what I want to be.

Bella: It sounds like you’re just a person who really just loves to learn whatever it is. Um, and so I can just like your eyes light up when you talk about what you’ve been able to do. So it’s pretty exciting to watch that. What has been something that you’ve learned about yourself, whether it’s like applying to school or this project that you’ve been involved with? What’s something that you’ve learned about you?

Bella: So I actually have been writing an essay for a scholarship about my different values and explaining how my experiences impacted the values that I have and I realized that my three main values are curiosity, empathy, and hard work. And I definitely have – seeing how those three values have developed my personality and the way I want to show up and present myself in the world. And I can see each aspect in everything that I do and the project and school and everything has kind of shown that I am really hard working and that I love to learn and that I want to help others.

Wendy: Well, and I think what’s great when you talk about curiosity is I think it goes so well with empathy when you think about it because being curious is I’m going to ask questions and I’m trying not to place a value judgment. I’m just trying to understand, but you’re able to understand because you have empathy for others and can kind of put yourself in their shoes.

Bella: Yes, those two are definitely very connected. And I always try to remember that I don’t want to have any preconceived notions and just be empathetic and curious about those around me.

Wendy: It’s really powerful when you can hear about and understand the lived experiences of others. If we would spend more time thinking about that, we really could get more on the same page and figure out we actually have a lot in common if we did that. So yeah. What’s your mom the most frightened about you going away to school? Like I figured she’d just pack up and move with you.

Bella: She has said so many times that she, like, Smith is the coolest and she wishes that she could just come live in the dorm with me. Um,

Wendy: You’re like maybe not.

Bella: Yeah.

Wendy: Although your mom’s pretty cool.

Bella: So yeah, she would be a fun roommate. I just think the distance. I think not being able to see each other every day. I really hope that we can call on the phone a lot and that she can be able to visit me and I can come back to Utah, but I think just the distance will be hard. I know she felt, had a very good feeling about Smith and that I’d be taken care of. They have a lot of resources and it’s very much a sisterhood in a community where they want to keep everyone safe and feeling like they belong. So she thinks that it will be a great place for me, but it’ll be hard to not be as close.

Wendy: Absolutely. Right now, recognizing that you haven’t quite decided all of the things that you want to do, but what would be an example of a type of dream job that you would like to have that you feel like encompasses your values and your passions that you have?

Bella: I would say from a young aeg, I’ve always been obsessed with science, so I do think that medicine is something that kind of feeds that love of science that I have, and I really love watching surgeries. I do that in my free time.

Wendy: I don’t even want to know about that.

Bella: So, I mean, I do really enjoy watching surgeries and so something with that and maybe neuroscience, saying that I want to be a neurosurgeon sounds crazy.

Wendy: No, it doesn’t. I think it sounds amazing.

Bella: I definitely think that’s something I would be very passionate about and interested in. And then I also want to be able to use Portuguese in a location that has a large Portuguese speaking population like Massachusetts and be able to serve those patients. And I do really have a love of literature and I don’t know how that will stay in my life, but I think that I just will always be a fan of poetry and books for the rest of my life.

Wendy: And that’s and that’s okay. I mean, it’s it’ll be great. Whatever it is The world’s gonna just bring to you whatever it does and you’re gonna do great things with it. I can already tell that

Bella: Thank you so much.

Wendy: No, it’s been a pleasure to visit with you. Thank you for sharing and being vulnerable and opening up and sharing your story with us and and you’ve just done incredible work. It’s remarkable. And I wish you all the best of luck as you finish out your senior year and go on to Smith. This will be great.

Bella: Thank you so much. I had so much fun talking to you guys.

Wendy: Thank you everyone for joining me for this week’s episode of What’s Up with the Soup. As always, all episodes will be posted on Spotify, YouTube, and the district website.

If you have any topics or questions you would like us to discuss on the podcast, please email us at

I invite you to join us again next week, where we will be meeting with individuals from Centennial Middle School to talk about their new parent volunteer program and how it has helped students at Centennial.

Until then, everyone have a great week.

Shauna Sprunger
  • Coordinator of Communications
  • Shauna Sprunger