TEWKSBURY — Graduating seniors from TMHS who earned the Seal of Biliteracy distinction were honored this week at a recognition ceremony hosted by ELE Department Lead Karen Hodgson and Spanish teacher Sra. Maria de Graça Lealdini-Dudley. Assistant Superintendent Brenda Theriault-Regan was on hand to present the students with their certificates and braided cords.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the State Seal of Biliteracy is an award provided by state approved districts that recognizes high school graduates who attain high functional and academic levels of proficiency in English and a world language.
Students come to the program already having a heritage language in their skill set, while others participate in language classes for all four years of high school. Additionally, English language learners attain proficiency in English along with demonstrating mastery of their own native language.
For example, Emely Estevez Hilario achieved her biliteracy in English, coming to Tewksbury from the Dominican Republic.
“Growing up in the Dominican Republic, I went to private schools where they offered English classes so when I came to the United States, I already knew some basics and could make sense of what was said to me. Even though I knew some basics, it was hard because I had to adapt to a new language where the language was completely different from my own.”
In Tewksbury, French and Spanish languages are introduced in the 7th and 8th grades, with continuing opportunities for language, including AP levels, at the high school. Sticking with the program has its rewards.
Graduate Amaya Allen reflected, “The important thing is to immerse yourself into the language you are trying to learn. By taking the path to language proficiency, so many doors of opportunity will open.”
The Seal of Biliteracy was instituted in California in 2012 as a way to recognize multilingual skills that students had acquired as an academic and marketable asset. In Massachusetts, the Language Opportunity Coalition (LOC) ran a pilot program for three years that culminated with Governor Charlie Baker signing the Massachusetts Seal into law on Nov. 22, 2017.
The LOOK ACT — Language Opportunity for Our Kids — institutes a standardized test and adds the seal to student diplomas. The recognition also appears on the student’s transcript for college, setting a student apart and helping to waive early world language prerequisites.
The program is voluntary for districts in Massachusetts but Tewksbury acted quickly and joined the program in its first year. TMHS was pleased to bestow the SOB honors to seniors in the graduating class of 2019. Currently, only 151 districts in Massachusetts offer this program, though participation is growing.
The Seal of Biliteracy places the focus on what the students can do with a second or third language, and recognizes that the world is culturally and linguistically diverse.
For English Language Learners, the Seal rewards students who attain biliteracy in English and their native language. For World Language learners, the Seal encourages students to pursue long-term language study and to develop proficiency rather than grades. Strong emphasis is placed on functioning in another culture, conversational ease and appreciating the strong 21st century skill that multilingualism represents.
As part of the program, the Commonwealth hopes that SOB learners will consider returning as teachers someday and be able to connect with students who need role models and instructors conversant in their language, as well as culturally aware.
Regardless of profession, the Seal of Biliteracy is marketable and shows prospective higher education institutions and employers that a student has completed a rigorous course of study. Data shows that for a learner to achieve an intermediate-mid level of language proficiency it requires at least a four-year program of study. An intermediate-mid level of proficiency means that the student can “function” with the language.
Graduate Alexia Chesbrough explained that the test of proficiency covers reading, writing, speaking and listening.
“It’s a really great way of assessing our Spanish abilities,” Chesbrough said.
Massachusetts currently lists readily available assessments for the following languages: Albanian, American Sign Language (ASL), Amharic, Arabic, Bengali/Bangla, Bosnian/Croatian, Bulgarian, Chinese (Mandarin), Dari, French, German, Greek (modern and classical), Gujarati, Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Malayalam, Pashto, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, Tagalog, Tamil, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Vietnamese, and Yoruba.
The following TMHS students are recipients of the LOC (Language Opportunity Coalition) Biliteracy Achievement Award: Diego Carneiro-Monteiro, Spanish and Portuguese; Tracey Costa, Portuguese; Rebecca Defrancesco, Spanish; Michael Fowler, Spanish; Owen Gilligan, Spanish; and Emily Hankins, Spanish.
In order to receive the State Seal a student must score in the intermediate-high level of proficiency. Those students include: Alexia Chesbrough, Spanish; Emely Estevez Hilario, Spanish; Andrew Laperriere, Spanish; Kyle Scrooc, Spanish; and Brenda de Miranda, English.
In order to receive the State Seal with Distinction a student must score in the Advanced level of proficiency. Those students include: Amaya Allen, Spanish; Megan Cunningham, Spanish and Jasmine Won, Spanish.