Students’ language skills to be recognized at graduation

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS - Marshalltown High School Students (from left) Nasteho Mohammed, Hay Oo, Uriel Campos Padilla and Emily Waldon are all working to earn a biliteracy seal by the time they graduate.

Action from the state legislature and governor last year will allow Iowa students to earn the Seal of Biliteracy when they graduate beginning this year.

The seal is meant to show a high school senior is proficient in more than one language. Marshalltown Schools Director of Instruction Lisa Stevenson said that will be good for many Marshalltown students.

“Essentially, it’s a recognition that kids would get on their diploma, similar to how kids get recognition at graduation for their GPA or volunteer hours,” she said of the biliteracy seal. “It is requiring students to demonstrate at least an intermediate, if not higher, level of proficiency in English as well as another language.”

The word “biliterate” may be reminiscent of the word “bilingual,” but Stevenson said the two are different concepts.

“It’s not just kids who can speak in another language and understand people, it’s kids who actually can read and write in English and another language,” she said.

With over 40 languages spoken at Marshalltown High School, Stevenson said it is a benefit to many Bobcats looking to enter college or the workforce.

“For students whose home language is English, it’s an opportunity for them to show the work and effort they’ve made to learn a second language, which in most cases is Spanish or French for our students,” she said. “For our students whose home language is not English, it is kind of proof, in some ways, to colleges and employers that they are proficient in English, in reading and writing.”

Several MHS students have jumped at the opportunity.

“I am excited about it,” said MHS junior Emily Waldon.

She said she is studying French and that her teacher is the only person aware of how skilled she is in the language. With the seal, she said she’ll have proof to others, including colleges and employers, that she is proficient in French.

Sophomore Uriel Campos Padilla agreed.

“I like that they’re giving me the opportunity to be recognized for learning multiple languages,” he said.

Campos said he knows English and Spanish, and is working on proficiency in French.

Two senior students, Hay Oo and Nasteho Mohammed, are working to get the Seal of Biliteracy on their diplomas later this year.

“It gives great opportunities for people who speak two languages or more. If you go to college, they will know that you speak more languages,” Hay said.

She said she knows Chinese and Burmese and is learning English and Spanish.

Nasteho, who speaks English as well as her native Somali, also said she likes that the seal will act as proof that she knows more than one language. She said she is currently learning Spanish.

“It’s also nice to speak more languages because I’m able to communicate to people in different languages,” Nasteho said.

Stevenson said the new biliteracy program will see students take various standardized exams to earn the seal.

“The future is kind of unknown yet as to how the regent universities or private colleges or community colleges will react to students having that seal on their diploma,” she said. “I’m sure, as (students) apply for clubs and organizations and scholarships and jobs, it will be an asset for many.”

For more information on the Seal of Biliteracy, visit