By Alex Badger and Miara Sasdi, Westborough High School
Westborough – Westborough High School (WHS) Class of 2019 is the first class to ever receive the Seal of Biliteracy award in recognition of their mastery of multiple languages. The state of Massachusetts and the Department of Education describes the award as “A recognition of students who have achieved proficiency in English as well as one or more additional languages. It is a statement of accomplishment that helps to signal evidence of a student’s readiness for career and college, and to engage as a global citizen.”
This award can also be received by students who are learning English as their second language, and have already mastered a native language. Senior Danye Zhou who was an English Language Learner explains that receiving this award “means that my abilities are recognized. I can gain confidence and motivation to continue.”
Zhou moved to Westborough from China with Mandarin as her first language, but worked with the English Language Learners Department (ELL) at WHS to reach a fluent level of English.
The Seal of Biliteracy focuses more on interpersonal communication skills within a world language, as opposed to grammar and writing skills.
WHS World Language Department Chair Bobby Sullivan stated, “One of the things that is a goal of the proficiency model is to have students be more comfortable in their oral proficiency going into college and career being the best communicators that they can be.”
By enabling the students to become better communicators, the WHS World Language Department hopes to enable them to succeed in an increasingly connected world.
The inaugural class for this new award was the Class of 2019, but prior there had been several changes to the curriculum that had pushed the department in this direction. Sullivan explained that the first three years of the Seal of Biliteracy program were a test pilot, and this is the first year that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has taken ownership and come out with guidelines and requirements. The curriculum is ever evolving, and as a result, the years of the test pilot have seen several changes to the department.
Sullivan explained that the interconnectedness of the World Language Department both at the middle and high school levels has enabled them to be successful in evolving the program at both levels. By having the staff at the middle school that is equally willing to adapt to the new goals of the department as a whole, they are enabling their students to thrive in high school as they have done for plenty of years in the past.
“Our hope is that as we see the proficiency level of our students increase as the students come more prepared from Gibbons Middle School all the way through senior year with the new curriculum,” Sullivan stated.
By initiating learners into this new curriculum from the start, the plan is to increase interpersonal communication skills, which can be a valuable learning tool on the path to proficiency.
The Class of 2019 had 18 recipients of the Seal of Biliteracy including salutatorians Heidi Yap and Troy Kanji, as well as valedictorian Arina Khotimsky. It became quickly apparent that these students worked exceptionally hard and demonstrated unmatched expertise in their respective languages.
Khotimsky spoke towards the importance of the award, stating, “The Seal of Biliteracy is a reminder that aside from daily classroom work, even if you don’t do so well on a particular assignment, in the long run, you do have the ability to communicate successfully in another language, which is extremely empowering.”
Jay Koehler also commented, “Having been in work environments with native Spanish speakers, being able to communicate without a language barrier has helped me both connect with people and improve my quality of work in-class. I’ve made one of my closest friends that I never would have gotten to know without proficiency in the language.”
Sullivan, the students, and all involved view this Seal of Biliteracy as a success, and there is still much room to improve. The curriculum will be entering its fourth year of change next year, and there is an expectation to see a steady rise in biliterate students within our school system in the coming years.
The following graduates of Westborough High School Class of 2019 were recipients the Seal of Biliteracy this year: Yoselin Garcia Ramirez (Spanish), Alexander Izvolsky (Spanish), Andrew Kafumbe (ELL), Troy Kanji (French), Arina Khotimsky (French), Sarah Kim (Spanish), Shriya Krishna (French), Rishita Sarin (French), Nicholas Smaldone (French), Ritu Somayaji(Spanish), Heidi Mae Yap (French), Alexander Zecena (Spanish), Danye Zhou (ELL). The following students received the award with special distinctions: Michell Duarte (Spanish), Jay Koehler (Spanish), Dylan Thaker (French).