Languages Are A Gift
In today’s global society that is so diverse, knowing more than one language is a clear advantage. And now Sheboygan Falls School District students have a new path to achieving that goal.
The district has joined a statewide initiative that recognizes students at high school graduation for their proficiency in more than one language. Spanish teacher Ashley Siqueiros, who has spearheaded the effort, said that the Seal of Biliteracy Program is intended to not only recognize high achievement in language study but also to highlight the diversity in the school community.
“It will definitely bring light to all the diversity in the community and I don’t think that’s very well known,” explained Siqueiros, noting that records show that district students speak at least 11 different languages besides English in their homes. “The number of languages we have represented in this district is pretty amazing.”
The languages range from Albanian to Hmong to Vietnamese and she believes the number is much higher than records show. For students who live in a home where English is not the first language, this new program offers them a chance to celebrate and sustain their at home language as well as their proficiency in English.
“We want to recognize and celebrate that diversity,” she said.
Sheboygan Falls is among a growing number of districts in Wisconsin approved to implement this program. In order to qualify, students must demonstrate their proficiency in English, their proficiency in a second “partner” language and complete an assignment designed to demonstrate their sociocultural competence.
In order to demonstrate their competence in English, students need to score at least an 18 on the reading and language arts portions or an overall score of 18 on the ACT college entrance exam typically taken by high school students during their junior years. Proficiency in a partner language is based on performance in listening, speaking, reading and writing on a standardized assessment. Students must achieve an Intermediate/high proficiency level.
Students must also complete an essay answering one of several questions about their personal relationship to bilingualism or the value of bilingualism in general. A final component is a student-designed and organized service project to meet a need in the community related to bilingualism. Possibilities include tutoring English language learner students – adults or children, volunteering as an interpreter at a medical facility, or organizing a bilingual children’s book reading at a local library. Students must also submit a written reflection about their project.
Students who complete all of those requirements receive a medal, a state-issued certificate and a seal on their diploma and transcripts that can be shared with colleges and employers.
Sheboygan Falls offers Spanish in grades 7 through 12. Siquieros said that she has more than a dozen students striving to meet eligibility criteria of the Seal of Biliteracy program.
She has set up a website about the program and hopes to distribute information about it – in all the languages spoken in the district – to parents this summer. By offering the Seal of Biliteracy, Sheboygan Falls is investing in programming to support students’ home and second language proficiency for college, career, and community-readiness.
“The world is changing,” Siquieros said. “We need to make sure our students are global members of our community.”