Roaring Fork schools eye seal for bilingual students
March 5, 2017
Growing up in a Spanish-speaking family and learning to be proficient in both Spanish and English through his 12 years in the Roaring Fork Schools system gives Roaring Fork High School senior Lorenzo Andrade of Carbondale a leg up in the 21st century world.
Likewise for fellow RFHS senior Tavia Teitler, whose family, including bilingual father and longtime Roaring Fork School District teacher Kenny Teitler, instilled the importance of biliteracy when she was young and who is ready to enter college with a skill that is crucial to being successful in a global society.
Both students have passed their Advanced Placement English and Spanish exams and are hoping to be able to take advantage of a new district policy that is under final review this week by the RFSD Board of Education. The policy would establish a special Seal of Biliteracy for graduating seniors, as well as a Pathways Award for students making the transition from elementary or middle school who exhibit biliteracy skills.
It's a way to recognize students who demonstrate proficiency in "listening, reading, speaking and writing in one or more languages in addition to English," according to the policy statement, and will serve to honor the linguistic and cultural diversity of district students and the community.
If approved, the Roaring Fork Schools will be one of just four Colorado school districts adopting the formal Seal of Biliteracy, joining the Eagle County Schools and two Front Range districts. The seal provides universities and scholarship organizations, as well as employers, with a way to credit applicants for being bilingual.
"As the 21st century gets to be more diverse, and biculturalism becomes more prominent, this biliteracy stamp helps set me apart and establishes my abilities to succeed in college and keep working hard to refine my skills," Andrade said.
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"It also gives praise to the parents and mentors that have provided invaluable help, and serves as a way to celebrate the richness found within our cultural differences," he said. "I think diversity is one of the best elements that makes the Roaring Fork Valley what it is."
Andrade and Teitler both recently spoke before the school board in support of the new policy.
"This seal provides a concrete goal and reward for students learning to become biliterate," Teitler said. "It's a great way to encourage other student to pursue biliteracy and, in turn, expose them to the unique experiences and opportunities that result from biliteracy and bifluency."
While Spanish is the language most commonly spoken in addition to English in the Roaring Fork Valley, RFHS Assistant Principal Kelsie Goodman notes that there are more than 40 smaller populations from other language and cultural groups in the area.
"We have one student who is working toward trilingualism in English, Czech and Spanish," said Goodman, who has been working closely with Amy Galicia, English Language Learner coordinator for the district, to develop the biliteracy policy.
Colorado has attempted to pass legislation that would recognize biliteracy in school districts across the state, without success. But individual districts can adopt their own policies, and Roaring Fork Schools wanted to be on the forefront of that movement, she said.
Goodman said she began working on the proposal as leader of the district's foreign language content area team. In doing that, she learned that Galicia had also been working toward the same goal through her ELL curriculum development.
"This is a way to combine forces and utilize all of our resources and the richness of diversity that we have in our valley," Goodman said. "Our students are fortunate that this is such an incredible place to grow up and be exposed to different cultures. You don't get that in a lot of districts."
The biliteracy seal would be available to graduates from Glenwood Springs and Basalt high schools as well.
RFHS in particular has been successful in teaching students to become bilingual, she said, noting a 100 percent rate of passage for students taking the Spanish AP exam.
The AP exams provide a more rigorous measure of language proficiency, even more so than the ACT and SAT college entrance exams, Goodman said. The district will need to adopt one or more measures to determine which students qualify.
Younger students moving from elementary or middle school would also benefit from the new district policy through the Pathways Award, offering encouragement for students to continue honing their language skills as they get to high school.
It's part of a broader school district effort to recognize biliteracy, as evidenced by the recent decision to make the new Riverview elementary and middle school in Glenwood Springs an official dual language school, and continued efforts to support language instruction in other district schools.
"We want to reinforce our commitment to biliteracy and biculturalism," Superintendent Rob Stein said in a recent interview about the decision to support dual language instruction at Riverview. "It will be great to take these kids who already have a strong Spanish-language background and to support that as we help them to become bilingual."
Goodman added that, by promoting biliteracy, it also opens up possibilities for seniors as the school district launches its Capstones projects graduation requirement starting next school year. As part of the Eagle County Schools' biliteracy requirement, students are required to complete a certain amount of community service in their target second language.
"It's been an amazing way to cross cultural lines and make those lines disappear when you are there serving together," Goodman said. "We couldn't do this without the incredible cultural diversity we already have here, and as a school district it speaks volumes to where our priorities lie."
If the biliteracy policy is given final approval at the March 8 school board meeting in Glenwood Springs, the district will begin promoting the development of literacy in two or more languages and providing formal recognition for students who attain those skills.
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